Thursday, 29 December 2016

December 31, 1737 - The Grey Nuns

The renowned "Grey Nuns" started in Montreal on 31 December 1737. Today you can find them in Canada, the U.S. and Latin America.

Their official name was the Sisters of Charity of Montreal. It was founded by Marie-Margueritte Dufrost de Lajemmerais, the widow of bootlegger Francois Youville. She and her three assistants in helping the poor made a secret pact to devote themselves completely to their task. About ten years later they took over running the Hopital General of Montreal from the Charon Brothers. Locals were not pleased with the changeover, and started calling them "les souers grises", or grey sisters, as a derogatory term. They were also called by some "the tipsy sisters" as a reference to Margueritte being the widow of a bootlegger. When they were recognized as an official religious order in 1755, they took the name "Grey Nuns" as their official name. Along with the name, they kept their simple grey habits, as a tribute to their humble origins.

In the beginning, the Grey Nuns filled a much needed role in New France. Women in difficulty were not taken care of outside of family. The hospital only treated men. The Grey Nuns filled this void. Not only treating women, though, their mandate was to feed and house any poor person, In exchange, able bodied people were put to work helping to run the day to day of the building. People could do laundry, prepare meals, sew; whatever way they could help.

In 1755, the nuns devoted themselves to caring for the sick during the smallpox epidemic. Since they were not a cloistered order, they were able to help the Oka First nations people at this time as well. In gratitude, they were among the contributors to rebuild after a devastating fire to the order in 1765.

Margueritte died 23 December 1771. The nuns continued with her legacy. In the 1840's the nuns expanded. They took over running a hospital in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec, and an orphanage in Quebec City. A chapter opened in St, Boniface, Manitoba on the Red River, and they opened a school in Ottawa. In 1855, they started in the U.S. by beginning work in Toledo, Ohio during a cholera epidemic. During the 1920's-1940's, they opened several locations across the Prairie Provinces. In the 50's- 70's they expanded their work to South America and Africa.

In 1959, Margueritte has made a saint by Pope Saint John XXIII. She was the first Canadian born saint.

You can find out more about the Grey Nuns and their work here:

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Canada's National Parks

As I'm sure you've heard, Parks Canada is offering free admission passes to all Canadian National Parks in 2017. What's exciting is that the pass also covers admission to all historic sites and marine conservation areas run by Parks Canada. You can get yours here at Parks Canada's website.

Our first National Park was Banff. Dating back to 1885, not only is it Canada's oldest, but it is the most visited. The third oldest National Park in the world, it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. It is 6,641 square km and located about 100 km west of Calgary. Jasper National Park lies on it's northern border.

In 1883, some railroad employees came across a hot springs in the area of what is now Banff. After two years of dispute over rights to the hot springs the Canadian government was given ownership and Banff was born.

Banff is also linked to a darker part of our country's history. At the beginning of the 20th century cars were originally not allowed in the park. But to increase tourism, they began to clear land and build roads. During WWI, funding for parks was reduced. So J. B. Harkin (the Parks Commissioner) obtained permission to use enemy aliens in interment camps to clear land and build roads. Enemy alien internment camps were constructed to house those recent immigrants from Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Belarus. There was wide spread suspicion that they might be disloyal to their new country and the government passed special regulations to monitor and intern them. The camps were located across Canada, but there was a high concentration around southern Alberta and British Columbia. They were put to work in not only Banff but several other parks as well. After WWI, the work continued during the Depression era with relief workers. During WWII, conscientious objectors to the war were used.

Today along with the hot springs, there are hiking trails, two historic sites located within the park, and nine other National parks and historic sites nearby. In the winter there is also alpine and cross country skiing. And of course there is Lake Louise. As far as I'm concerned, it's one of the most beautiful places in the world.

A few years ago, we took the drive from Calgary to Banff and Lake Louise. The town of Banff itself is picturesque, and Lake Louise quite simply took my breath away.

At Lake Louise there is a hiking trail you can take that goes to the Lake Agnes Tea House. Built in 1901, it was build as a stop for hikers by the Canadian Pacific Railway. To this day it has no electricity or running water. Some supplies are flown in by helicopter, but fresh food is hiked up the trail by staff. It's open June-October.

You can find out more about Canad'a National Parks at the following:

Parks Canada

Canadian Encyclopedia

Canada National Park Act

National Parks of Canada

Monday, 12 December 2016


Have you sat in on a webinar? If you haven't then you should. They usually only take about an hour of your time, and you can learn a lot without even leaving the house. No matter what aspect of genealogy you want to know about, you can probably find a webinar for it. DNA is a popular subject, as well as methodology. You can also find ones on location specific research.

The general setup is that there is a power point presentation and lecture that runs around 45 minutes or so. The last 15 minutes are a question and answer period. Sometimes there is a handout you can download and keep for future reference. Ones that are specific to Canadian research can be a little hard to find. But you can still learn a thing or two about using, say, city directories, even if the presenter is talking about ones in New York. And ones on basic methodology and organization are relevant no matter what country you're talking about. The best thing about webinars are that they are almost always free to sit in on live. Even the ones that aren't free are usually quite reasonably priced.

This week I've been receiving emails from various mailing lists I'm on about webinars coming up in 2017. Let me tell you, it's going to be a great year for learning new things! Let's take a look at some of the groups that present webinars regularly. You don't have to be a paying member to see most of these.

Legacy Family Tree Webinars.  This is one of the biggest learning sites. Along with their own webinars, they are in a partnership with the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) to produce their webinars. They have right now 76 webinars scheduled for next year. Most are free for a short time after the initial broadcast. After that only subscribers can access past recordings. The subscription is $9.95/month (I believe US dollars). Along with access to their library of 450 recordings, you also get all handouts and 5% at the Legacy Family Tree Shop of software and guides.

Family Search .  The schedule for January and February 2017 is out now. They have ones pertaining to different countries, as well as ones for using the FamilySearch site effectively. There are also ones on general research and organizing. You can also access selected past webinars. All of these are free.

 Illinois State Genealogical Society.  Free to sit in on live, they run the 2nd Tuesday of every month. Some are Illinois specific, but there are some general research ones as well.

Ontario Genealogical Society. The 2017 schedule is not on the website yet, as they are still confirming things. They have posted the tentative lineup in their weekly enewsletter, and it looks good. Included are lectures on DNA, Canadian migration, and archival research techniques. By using the link above and looking under the tab "News&Events", you can find where to sign up for the weekly enewsletter.

Southern California Genealogical Society. Another American group, but with great webinars. Their 2017 schedule looks great. There's DNA, One Name Studies, and using FAN, to name a few.

American Ancestors. Don't be fooled by the name. Run by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, they have some great resources for Atlantic and French Canadian research. A guest account is free to register.

Believe it or not, Youtube is a great place to find archived genealogy webinars.

Finally, you can find lots of links to webinar sites on Cyndi's List. Also check in with your local Genealogical or Historical Society. You never know what they have on offer,

If you use any other sites that aren't mentioned above, feel free to let everyone know in the comments below.

Friday, 9 December 2016

This Week in Canadian History Dec 4- Dec 10: The Halifax Explosion

Next year marks the 100th Anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. Up until WWII, it was the largest man made explosion in history. In 1917, Halifax was a hub of activity for WWI. The harbour was full of convoys of ships carrying food, munitions and troops. Including troops the city had an estimated population of around 60,000.

On December 6 1917, at the early morning, two ships collided. One of the ships was the IMO, a Norwegian cargo ship that was travelling out of the Bedford Basin. It was on it's way to New York to pick up relief supplies for Belgium. The other was the Mont-Blanc, another cargo ship that was carrying munitions. It was going inbound to the Basin, to join the convoy gathering. The ship was loaded with, according the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic's website "...2,300 tons of wet and dry picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 10 tons of gun cotton, and 35 tons of benzol:a highly explosive mixture...".

The IMO hit the bow of the Mont-Blanc. Fire broke out on the Mont-Blanc. The captain and crew abandoned ship. As a result, the ship drifted into Pier Six. Burning for 20 minutes, it unfortunately attracted spectators, none of which knew that it was loaded with explosives. The naval officers and railway dispatchers who knew of this had no chance to warn anyone.

At 9:06 am, the Mont-Blanc exploded, being totally obliterated. Ship fragments blew into the surrounding area, crashing through buildings. Those not killed instantly in the explosion and falling debris were horribly injured. Adding to the confusion was people being blinded by shattered glass from the shock wave of the explosion. Fires started in the aftermath and quickly spread, completely destroying 1630 homes. Another 12,000 were severley damaged. It blew almost all the windows in not only Halifax, but Dartmouth as well. The nearby Mi'kmaq community of Turtle Grove was destroyed. In all, almost 2,000 people died and over 4,000 were injured. A further 6,000 people were left homeless.

Thanks to the heavy military presence, rescue efforts began immediately. As well, that same night, a train from Boston came in loaded with supplies, medical personnel, and members of the Public Safety Committee. The state of Massachusetts was instrumental in providing help in the days and weeks afterward. As a thank you, to this day Nova Scotia provides the beautiful tree that is in Boston Common every Christmas.

One of the great heroes of the Explosion was Vincent Coleman. Even though he knew it would mean his death, he stayed at his telegraph station and warned Passenger Train No.10 to stay away. If he hadn't, the train would have been passing right by the Mont-Blanc. His actions saved the 300 people aboard the train.

To learn more about the Explosion, you can visit these sites:

Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Timeline of the Explosion

Nova Scotia Archives As well as the Book of Remembrance, there is a section of personal accounts of the Explosion and aftermath

Canadian Encyclopedia

CBC-Halifax Explosion

Halifax Fire Museum Personal stories of firemen involved

Halifax Explosion Website A website dedicated to the event

Monday, 5 December 2016

Laying the Groundwork- Census Records Part 2

Last week we looked at what kind of information can be found on a census return. Now we're going to look at where to find them.


 The LAC is the first place any genealogist should go. They have all census records from 1851 to 1916 digitized, as well as the link to the free access to the 1921 census on Ancestry. A word of caution though. They don't use soundex. Make sure you enter several variations of surnames, and use wildcards. For example, when I enter MALLAIS into the 1911 census search engine I get 66 results Canada wide. When I enter MAILLET I get 3,700 results that don't include the 66 from MALLAIS.

Ancestry has 1851 to 1916 for subscribers, and 1921 is free to everyone. It is better than LAC in that they will do soundex, but the downside is their indexing. Some years are better than others. Be warned especially if you are looking for French Canadian names. Sometimes you'll have to do it the old fashioned way by browsing instead of a name search. One memorable example is my great grandfather Patrice Joseph MALLAIS. In 1911 he was indexed as PAHIQUE MALLARS, of all things. Every time I tried to search for him in 1911 I got his nephew Patrice Mallais. It wasn't until I started browsing the area where I knew he lived, page by page, that I found my Patrice.

FamilySearch has indexed from 1851-1916. There are no images available. It is a good resource in that FamilySearch indexing is very good. However, you will not be able to see the wealth of information like I listed last week in the entries for Arthur WOOD. They have indexed only certain information. This is what it said for Arthur in 1911:

Arthur Wood

Canada Census, 1911
NameArthur Wood
Event TypeCensus
Event Date1911
Event PlacePeel Sub-Districts 32-39, Ontario, Canada
Age (Estimated)47
Marital StatusMarried
Relationship to Head of HouseholdHead
Birth DateSep 1864
"Recensement du Canada de 1911," database, FamilySearch( : 2 March 2015), Arthur Wood, 1911; citing Census, Peel Sub-Districts 32-39, Ontario, Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm 2,418,517.

It also did show the entire household, with links to each person's information.
This site has 1851, 1901, 1906, and 1921 transcribed. They are at various stages of completion. There are no images. By following the link above to their site, you can see what they have for each. An interesting side project of theirs is a huge linking project. One day you'll be able to type in a name, and all census records (and some other databases) for that person will be there for you to view.

Though mainly for UK research, Find My Past has started building a Canadian record collection. Right now you can access transcriptions of 1901 and 1911.

Pre 1851

There are very few census records pre 1851. Most of those that have survived were locally done with a specific purpose in mind. They would most likely fall under the category of tax and poll lists.

Library and Archives Canada has census images for 1825 and 1831 for Lower Canada (Quebec). They also have 1842 for Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario).

Ancestry has links to the Family Search images of the 1825 Lower Canada Census and the 1842 Canada East census. They also have the images for the 1770 Nova Scotia Census, indexed and copied by Bernice Richard for the Chicago Genealogical Society. The final database in their Canada census collection is the "Nova Scotia, Canada, Census, Assessment and Poll Tax Records, 1770-1795, 1827". There are links that take you to the Nova Scotia Archives' images.

Family Search has images for 1825, 1831, and 1842.

Find My Past has images and transcriptions for the 1825 Lower Canada Census.

Among the many BMD's in the Drouin Collection, are some partial census records. Ancestry has some of these. They are NOT indexed, so you will have to browse through the Acadia Drouin collection. You can also access Drouin records at Genealogy Quebec.

You can also try looking at various Provincial Archives and local Societies for early census and tax roll records. Remember that it may not be digitized online. You may have to use interlibrary loan if available, or go there in person.

A Final Note

Just a few things to keep in mind when researching census records:
  1. Language: If you have French Canadian ancestry, then you know what I'm talking about. Many French names were anglicized by census takers. Always look at the top of the page to see the name of the enumerator. If they were English and doing a predominately French area, you will see this a lot. Going back to Patrice Mallais, in 1921 he was written as Patrick Malley. In 1861, my ancestor Guillaume Fournier was written down as William Fourney by the census taker.
  2. Name Variations; A lot of people were illiterate, and therefore probably could not spell their own name for the census taker. So he wrote it how he thought it was spelled. Just because you spell your name the way you do, doesn't mean that the census enumerator did. So look for different variations. Don't just try SMITH, but try SMYTH too.
  3. Availability: Not all census records survived. Library and Archives Canada has great explanations on what is and isn't available for each census. I was crushed to learn that none of Gloucester County, New Brunswick survived for 1851. A huge part of my tree had settled there.

Friday, 2 December 2016

This Week in Canadian History Nov 27- Dec 3 2016: Toronto's First Santa Claus Parade

The T. Eaton Company held the first Toronto Santa Claus parade on December 2, 1905. Now one of the largest in North America, the first parade was only 1 float. Today there are more than 25 floats alone, and the parade route has stretched 6 km some years. It also has the distinction of being one of the oldest in North America. Being born in Toronto, I myself have memories of attending the parade.

In keeping with the Eaton's history of philanthropy in Canada, the parade was fully funded by the company. The floats and costumes were made by them. Children applied to be in the parade, sometimes waiting as much as three years before they got their chance to participate.

In 1913, Santa's float had real reindeer. Eaton's brought them in from Labrador. After the parade, they were sent to live on an executive's land outside of Toronto.

Eaton's funded the parade until 1982, until it was no longer financially possible for the company to do so. It was saved by George Cohon and Ron Barbaro when they formed a non-profit organization to oversee running of the parade. They also got 20 corporate sponsors that first year. The organization has run the parade ever since.

You can find out more about the history of the parade here:

Monday, 28 November 2016

Laying the Groundwork: Census Records Part 1

Experienced researchers know that the Canadian census collection is the first place to look for your ancestors. Census records pinpoint your ancestors in a time and place, but they can tell you so much more if you know how to read them.

The first official Canadian census was taken in 1851/1852, and covered what is now Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, As per the British North America Act, it was taken every ten years until 1901. Then in 1905, the Census and Statistics Act was implemented. It stated that a national census was to be conducted in 1911, and ever ten years afterward. As well, an additional agricultural and population census was to be taken in the prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) in 1906, and taken every subsequent ten years. So this means that the Prairies were enumerated every five years, and the rest of the country every ten years. This continued until 1956, when all of Canada started being enumerated every five years. The type of questions asked vary from census to census. Later years have more detail on individuals than earlier ones.

The only exception to this is of course, Newfoundland. They did not become a province until 1949, There are census returns for 1921, 1935 and 1945 at the Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador, and at Library and Archives Canada. Labrador can be found in 1871 census under "Quebec, Labrador District", and in 1911 under "Northwest Territories, Labrador Sub-district".

Privacy laws dictate that census records are to be held by Statistics Canada, and not publicly available, for 92 years. Yes, that is an odd number, and to be honest, I have no idea how they came up with it. So, as of right now, you can access up to the 1921 Canadian census. According to Library and Archives Canada's website, the only way you can access post 1921 census returns is for information on yourself. Even then, it can only be accessed for pension and legal concerns. We will not see the public release of the 1931 census until at least 2023.

In genealogy we work backwards through the years, so your goal is to get your family back to 1921. has this census. You can sign up for a free account with your email to search. Let's take a look at the family of Arnold WOOD. From the census I found out the following information:

  • He lived at 477 1/2 Bolliver Street in Peterborough, Ontario.
  • He is 29 years old. Also in the house was his wife Christina Wood (28), his daughters Doris J Wood (7) and Evelyn M Wood (1), and his "wife's daughter" Christine Black (11).
  • The house had 6 rooms, and he paid 18 dollars a month.
  • Arnold was born in England, as was his parents.
  • His wife Christine was born in Scotland, as were both her parents
  • Daughters Doris and Evelyn were born in Ontario.
  • Christine the younger was born in Scotland, as was her father.
  • Arnold came to Canada in 1907, and both Christines came in 1912.
  • Everyone could speak English, but not French.
  • They all belonged to the Church of England.
  • Doris and Evelyn could not read or write, but everyone else could.
  • Arnold was employed as a painter. However, he was unemployed for 8 months in the past year. It was not due to illness.
  • He earned 850 dollars in the last year.
  • Next door to Arnold at 477 Boliver Street is Hamlet and Julia WOOD.

Wow, that's a lot of information. Some of it, like the house information, is more to give you a feel for the time period. The rent of 18 dollars a month seems unreal when you look at housing costs today, but when you factor in he earned 850 dollars a year, it puts it into perspective.

Let's look at the immigration years of Arnold and Christine the elder. The obvious information we can get from this is what time frame to search passenger lists. But did you notice that there's a five year gap? That, coupled with Christine has an 11 year old daughter from a previous relationship, says that chances are they married here in Canada. So there's a possibility we could find a marriage registration for them in Ontario. We can surmise that they were married between 1912 (Christine's immigration year) and 1920.

Also looking at the immigration years, we now can look for Arnold in the 1911 census, but we might not find Christine. Don't discount it though. Sometimes, people forget what year they actually came over, and give their best guess instead.

Take a look at next door to Arnold and Christine. Their neighbours are Hamlet and Julia WOOD. Among their information is the fact that they are in their 50's, born in England and came to Canada in 1907. There is a very strong possibility that they are relatives of Arnold's. 

So now, let's look at Arnold in the 1911 census. I also looked at this on, of which I am a subscriber.

  • He lives at 573 Bollivar Street.
  • He is 19 years old and single. Also in the house are his father Hamlet Wood (41), his mother Julianne Wood (40), brother Wildred (15), and sister Doris (12).
  • Though there is a space for birth month and year, the enumerator has only listed the months. Arthur was born in August, Hamlet in March, Julianne in July, Wilfred in August, and Doris in October.
  • Everyone was born in England.
  • There is a space for immigration year, but it was not filled out. Only one family on the page had it filled out, even though most of the people were born outside of Canada.
  • They all state their religion is Anglican. 
  • Arthur is a moulder. Hamlet is a painter. Julianne has no occupation listed. Wilfred is a collar maker in a factory, and Doris is at school.
  • The men all work 60 hours per week. Arthur made 140 dollars the previous year. Hamlet made 400, and Wilfred made 200.
  • All of them can read and write, and their mother tongue is English.

Again a lot of information. One thing we have confirmed is that Hamlet and Julia Wood from the 1921 census are indeed relatives of Arthur's. They are his parents. From the 1921 census we know that they all came over in 1907. They probably came together. It'll be much easier to find them on a ships list as a group.
Another interesting fact is that in 1911 Arthur has a sister named Doris. In 1921 he has a daughter named Doris. This family is part of my mother-in-law's genealogy, and confirms the family story that Doris the younger was named for her Aunt Doris the elder.

It's a shame we don't have birth years on the census. But we do have birth months and with the ages given, we can determine a birth year. With this information, we could look at English civil registration for birth certificates.

So there you have it. In only two census records, we have found out the following things about Arthur:

  1. He was born in England in August @1892
  2. He was a moulder, then a painter.
  3. His parents are Hamlet Wood and Julianne Wood.
  4. He has a brother Wilfred and sister Doris.
  5. He came to Canada in 1907.
  6. He married Christina between 1912 and 1921.
  7. Arthur and Christine end up living next door to Hamlet and Julianne.
  8. They had two daughters, Doris and Evelyn, and we know their approximate birth years.
  9. He has a step daughter named Christine Black.
Using all this information, we now know where to look for Arthur's birth, his marriage to Christine, and the births of their children. We can look for Arthur's immigration records. If we choose to, we can follow his siblings' life in Canada as well.

This is why we should always look at census records first for a person. In part 2 we will look at where to look at census records online, and where to look for people pre 1851.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

This Week in History: The Alaska Highway Officially Opens

This week marks the official opening of the Alaska Highway in 1942. originally called the Alcan (Alaska-Canadian) Highway, this feat of engineering runs from Dawson Creek, British Columbia (Mile 0), through the Yukon, to Fairbanks, Alaska (Mile 1523).

Built from March to October 1942, the Highway was the idea of President Herbert Hoover. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the highway was built as a supply route for the defense of North America from the Japanese.

The formal agreement between Canada and the U.S. stipulated that the Americans would pay for and build the highway. In exchange, Canada would waive all duties and taxes, and immigration regulations. As well, Canada would provide constuction materials along the route. It was also agreed that at the end of World War II, the Canadian portion of the highway would be turned over to the Canadian government.

In total, more than 11,000 American troops, and 16,000 civilian labourers (both Canadian and American) worked on the highway. As this area was sparsely populated, they basically had to carve the route out of the sheer wilderness of muskeg and mountains. The fact that it only took seven months to complete is a wonder.

The highway did not open to the public until 1948. The original highway took sharp dives and turns, and not paved. Once the Canadian Department of Public Works took over the highway in 1964, that all changed. They made it safer, building new sections around the more dangerous areas, and paved it. You can still visit some stretches of the original highway on foot. There are route markers along the highway with interesting tidbits of the history. I went from Fort St.John (Mile 47) to Bucking Horse River (Mile 175). It's a beautiful scenic drive.

If you would like to know more about the Alaska Highway, check out these websites:

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Don't Dismiss that Family Story!

Genealogists are taught that we must be able to back up our conclusions with proof. Ideally, we should have three different sources to prove our assertion. The best sources are of course civil registration and church records. But what about family stories?

On the surface, family lore is not a wholly reliable source. Over generations, the story changes bit by bit. Did you ever play the game "Broken Telephone" as a kid? It was when everyone sat in a circle. The first person would whisper a sentence in the ear of the person to the right of them. Then that person would whisper what they heard into the ear of the person to their right. Around the circle you'd go, back to the first person. When you compare what the last person heard to what the first person said, the sentence had changed. Family lore is like that. Each successive telling of the story changes the story a little bit.  Most often, it is the military years of an ancestor that grows into heroic deeds. Sometimes it has to do with the activities of a "black sheep" ancestor.

In my own case, the story centers around the parentage of my grandfather, Henri GOVEREAU. This story takes some twists and turns, so bear with me. I had been told that he was orphaned very young, and brought up by the GOVEREAU family. As a tribute to them, he took their last name as his own. The story was that his real last name was MCKENZIE. So I set about to prove this. My first step was to locate him in census records, which I did. In 1911 he is living with his mother Mary, sister Annie, and cousin Jeremy. He is living with them and several other family members in 1901. Next I find a record of his marriage to my grandmother. I found this at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB) for free download.

Now, if you'll notice, he has Mary GOVEREAU listed as his mother, but he states that his father is unknown. I thought this rather strange. Since he is Catholic, I then hopped onto Ancestry, and checked the Drouin Collection for him. Up popped his baptism, which states:

"On the 4th of July,
1892, the undersigned baptized
Henry, one month and twelve
days old, illegitimate child of
of Mary Govereau, the sponsor
being Olivea Gotereau, nee Savoy"

In addition, listed in the margin of the record, is the dates of both my grandfather's marriages, so I knew I had the right person. Well, I thought, that's that. He wasn't adopted. Catholic records are pretty thorough, and if he was adopted, it would say that. Illegitimacy is not a big deal these days, but back then it probably was, I thought. The story was conceived to hide it. Whether by my grandfather or by his mother, I didn't know. I also wondered briefly where they pulled the last name MCKENZIE from, but dismissed it and went on from there. I get back to Henri's grandfather, also named Henri GOVEREAU. He suddenly appears in my ancestors area of Tracadie, New Brunswick in the 1840's, marrying twice. He is not connected to the Govereau family already established there. Census records indicate he was born in Quebec, but I could not find a connection to the various spellings of Govereau there. One tantalizing hint in his first marriage record states that his parents are the deceased Joseph Govereau and the deceased ---- Michaux. In the Quebec Drouin on Ancestry, I found a marriage between Joseph DENEAU and Rose MICHAUD. I could not find any connection to them and Henri. I come to the realization that Henri is not on the up and up of what he appears to be. I'm fairly new to genealogy back then, and become frustrated. I set Henri aside and pursue easier branches.

Flash forward ten years to just a few weeks ago. I'm much more experienced at researching and learned some new tricks. So I decide to take another look at Henri Senior. I go onto the PANB and take a look at the Monseigneur Donat Robichaud database. The Monseigneur was an avid and well known historian and genealogist of the northern New Brunswick area. The PANB has his database online and available for free to look at and download. I look up Henri Senior in the database, and found out the Monseigneur has compiled a lot of information on him. It turns out that yes, Henri was not who he appeared to be. Long story short, Henri was a bigamist born in Quebec as Germain DEVOE. He married and abandoned his wife and young daughter in Boston, making his way to the Mirimichi. In supporting documentation, Monseigneur Robichaud lists a baptism from a record group I have not seen before, the register of Burnt Church (1844-1890):

- 1887, 19 mai. Baptême de Mary Gauvreau, born 1st April, illegitimate child of William McKenzie and Mary Gauvereau. Parrains: Luc Gotreau, Velna LeBlanc. Rev Wm Morrissey.

This baptism coincides with the birth of Annie GOVEREAU, my grandfather's sister. Annie is also listed as illegitimate, but did you notice the name of the father? William MCKENZIE! If you remember, the family story is that my grandfather's real surname was McKENZIE. After this many years, I think the only way I could prove that Henri is a McKenzie is a through a DNA testing. But there are only 5 years difference between Annie and Henri's baptisms, so it is a possibility that William MCKENZIE fathered both of them.

So don't dismiss your family lore! They say (whoever "They" are) that every rumour has a kernel of truth. The same holds true with your family story. Write those stories down, and then go about proving them. It may take awhile to unravel the truth. It took a decade and some serendipity for me. But don't get discouraged. The "high five" moment will eventually come.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Do You Have a Military Ancestor?

Do You Have a Military Ancestor?

Canada has a long history of military service and accomplishment. Just the mention of the words "Vimy"or "Juno" can make a Canadian stand a little straighter and feel a sense of pride. In more recent years, we are known the world over for our peace keeping missions. And then, of course, are the Loyalist ancestors.

The best place to start researching your military ancestors is the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website's section on the military:

From this page you can navigate very easily the huge amount of information they have. The best thing for the frugal genealogist is that it is free. A great deal is available online, but not everything. You may need to schedule yourself a research trip. LAC does offer inter-library loan, but the rules are stringent. By scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking on Services and Programs, you can find the conditions that have to be met for inter-library loan. 

A huge ongoing project of the LAC is their digitization of the WWI service files. There are 640,000 personnel files relating to soldiers, nurses and chaplains. They expect to have it finished in late 2018. The files are being digitized in more or less alphabetical order, and in their last progress report, they have digitized up to Mahony. Once digitized, the personnel file is free to download. These files are an incredible source of information. A service file I downloaded for George Henry BOORMAN is 116 pages long! Not only did it have a record of his military service, but there were detailed reports of his injuries at Vimy Ridge and the subsequent medical care from them. His attestation paper gave a physical description, as well as next of kin. I found out his home address, his pre-war occupation, and his employer's name and address, Not all files have as much detail as George Boorman's. But you never know what you might find. Another file I downloaded was for my great uncle Jules MALLEY. He ended up dying from Spanish flu in 1918. In an account of his medical history, he stated that his mother (my great grandmother) had been diagnosed with Tuberculosis! Now that's a nugget of information I might otherwise never have known. Her own death was many years later, and had nothing to do with TB.

The usual suspects in online research can also help you research Canadian military records:

  2. Familysearch has limited amounts of information
  3. Cyndi's List

So what do you do if your ancestor fought more recently than WWI? Due to privacy laws, WWII and Korean service files are only able to be accessed under strict guidelines. You may have to "think outside the box."

One way to go about finding information on your military ancestor is war diaries and unit histories. If you know what unit they fought in, you can search to see if they are available for that unit. LAC has some. Try googling your ancestor's unit to see if another archive has them. For instance, I googled "1st Battalion Canadian Guards", of which my great uncle served in Korea. In the results was The Canadian Guards Association. The website has several links, one of which is the unit's history.

If you're lucky enough to live in the same area as your ancestor, try contacting your local historical or genealogy society.  They are very dedicated to preserving local heritage, and may have a collection of your area's contributions to Canada's war effort. Don't overlook your local public library as well. For instance, here in Lindsay, Ontario where I live, they have 3 databases online. The first two have been contributed by the Royal Canadian Legion's Memory Project on local soldiers. The third database has newspaper clippings of local WWII vets.

And of course don't forget to check out local and provincial archives. The Archives of Ontario has an online exhibit right now called "Eaton's Goes to War".  The T. Eaton Company Ltd. were a major supporter of the war effort in WWI. To help with enlistment, John Eaton offered all married men their full salary for the duration of their military service, on top of what they would receive from the military. Single men would receive half wages. As a result, over 3,000 Eaton's employees enlisted. The online database has a list of Eaton Employees, and most have photographs. You can read all about the incredible contribution of both John Eaton and his employees here:

Newfoundland is the exception to the usual routes of Canadian military research. They did not become a Canadian Province until 1949. To research Newfoundland military ancestors, you may have to look to British sources.

Military research can be a little frustrating, and you may have to go at it in an unconventional manner. But the rewards are worth it. And this week, what better way to remember them?

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


Welcome to my blog. It's combining my two great loves: history and genealogy. To be honest, you really can't have an interest in one without the other. This blog will focus for the most part on Canadian history and genealogy. 

First the genealogy aspect. Canadian genealogy can pose some challenges. Regardless of what you see on television, it isn't all easy, and its not all instantly accessible. With my blog, I hope to help you navigate the waters.

We are a nation of immigrants. That's a fact. Unless your personal genealogy is 100% First Nations, you have an immigrant ancestor. They could be a recent immigrant. Or in the case of many of my own lines, it could be someone in the 1600's and 1700's, before our nation became officially known as Canada. Depending on how far back you want to go, you may have to look at records from another country.

Where your ancestor lived in Canada means a lot. Each province and territory has their own unique history. They also have their own rules as to availability of records and access to them.

Religion is another big factor. Especially to accessibility of records both on line and in repositories. My French Canadian ancestry has been so much easier to research online than my Protestant ancestors. 

Now to the history part. Some people are only interested in the Birth Marriages and Deaths (BMD's) of our ancestors. There is nothing wrong with that. The more recent trend in genealogy though is not to only ask "when" but to ask "why". For instance:

  • Why did several members of one family die within a few months of each other?
  • Why did my ancestor become a blacksmith when his father and grandfather were farmers?
  • Why did my ancestor suddenly pick up and move his family from one province to another?
That's where the history angle comes into play. To understand the why, sometimes you have to look at the history of where your ancestor lived. With this blog I hope to help you understand the complex history of our country a little better.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy!