Fathers – #52 Ancestors

I decided not to write about my 83 year old father, he’s still alive and it would just feel too much like doing a eulogy. There are lots of dads in my tree, but who to pick. I decided to do it by luck of the draw. My genealogy software has a function called “on this day list” so I asked it to give me a list for June 17, Father’s Day. All those fathers and only one had an event that occurred on June 17. Samuel Searles was the winner!


mariansleigh church

Church in Mariansleigh, Devon, England courtesy of UK Genealogy Archives at ukga.org

On  June 17, 1822, Samuel Searles was baptized for the second time. The first baptism took place on March 31, 1822 at his home. I asked an expert in British research why someone would be baptized twice. It means that the child was born but wasn’t expected to live so the Church of England priest would have hurried over to his parents’ house and baptized him. Well, Samuel was pretty tough and didn’t die so he was baptized in the church a few months later.

Samuel was born around March 31, 1822 in Mariansleigh, Devonshire, England. His parents were Michael and Betsy Searles. He wasn’t the first child named Samuel born to this couple. The first Samuel was born and died in 1816. Another custom of the day, naming another child after one who had passed away.



South Molten, Devon, England near Mariansleigh.

This was/is a farming area and Michael was a farmer. According the the website Pictures of England, Mariansleigh is a

“charming tiny village is set in lovely rural mid-Devonshire countryside within a short distance from the meandering River Mole in the beautiful Mole Valley, and the picturesque Crooked Oak stream.

This is a spacious country region, not much hassle from traffic – in the lanes it is more likely to be horses that you meet! Most of the landscape is given over to agricultural use, with a predominance of farms in the area.

Apart from the prettiness of the village, it is perhaps best known for its ancient church dedicated to St.Mary.”

After his uncertain birth, Samuel went on to become a farm labourer. These were the people who worked on the land of other people. It was a very insecure and difficult life.

When he was 22 years old, Samuel married Maria Nott, a single woman who already had a child. Samuel and Maria went on to have 3 more children. Lucy, Samuel, and Eliza. I am a descendant of his son, Samuel who eventually moved to Wales with his wife and children and then to Toronto, Canada. He is the father of my great grandfather Searles.

Samuel died young, at the age of 30, leaving poor Maria with 4 children under the age of 11. Maria, of course, remarried 3 years after his death.  Perhaps his early death occurred because of a chronic illness that began when he was born.

Going to the chapel

Gramma Dunn;s weddingHere’s a picture from my Grandparent’s wedding. I’m not sure if they even married in a chapel, but my grandmother, Gwyneth (Gwen) Harrison nee Searles married Walter Dunn on February 20, 1947 in Timmons, Ontario.  This picture from the wedding shows that Walter’s sister, Jessie, and her husband,  Austin, attended the ceremony. You can see Gwen and Walter are holding hands in the wedding picture, if you look carefully.

This was Gwen’s second marriage. She married John Edward “Buster” Harrison about 1939 and divorced him shortly before her marriage to Walter. Buster and Gramma Dunn had 3 children and when the divorce went through Buster gave up his rights to the children and Walter adopted them.

I always thought of them as my “grumpy” grandparents and figured it was because they drank so much. But now I think it might have been because 8 kids invaded their house for a few days. I have a few good memories of them. One is gramma cooking hotdogs for us because my younger brother loved them so much. Another is of gramma coming to Lavallee to watch the us when Mom was in the hospital having another baby. And I remember granddad  teaching us how to make a rose out of playing cards.

Gramma and Granddad were married 40 years when Walter died. I asked Gramma why she loved granddad. She thought about it for a bit and said, “He made me laugh”.





So far away!

I used to think families didn’t move around much in the past. It didn’t take long to realize this premise is incorrect. Let me use the Titchworth family to as an example.

William Titchworth was born about 1808 in New York (state or city I’m not sure). He migrated to the Dundas area of Ontario, Canada some time before 1839.(He married Nancy Mulholland in Dundas in 1839). His wife died about 1856 (information given to me by Kay Corbett, a descendant) and then about 1864 he moved to Kansas. So far away from his children!

William and Nancy’s children didn’t stay put either. Emily, married and stayed in Southern Ontario. One daughter, Leah, moved to Saskatchewan with her husband. Their son, Silas went to Detroit. Another daughter  Pheobe, moved with William to Kansas where she married then moved with her husband to the Victoria area of British Columbia.  And their son Ira, the black sheep of the family, ran away from his wife and daughter to Mariposa, California.  Most of this family was far away from each other.

I often wondered if they ever visited each other or stayed touch.  Then I discovered the  Kay Corbett who had saved letters written to her grandmother Phoebe Field nee Titchworth, the one who moved to Kansas then Victoria. Most of the them are written by the children of Leah Jane Titchworth and Reuben Clarence Taylor (my 3 great-grandparents).  The children lived in Ontario and Saskatchewan, Canada and California, Washington, and Michigan in United States.

They don’t contain much genealogical information (birth, marriage, death information) but they do describe our ancestor’ lives and their day to day concerns. One of my favourite letters is written by Silas in his old age, trying to get the family together for a reunion. He seemed to miss everyone.

Some letters let Pheobe know what was going on. This letter from Jennie Barclay nee Taylor was written Dec 2, 1942. She and her husband owned a raisin farm and we learn how hard it is to find workers during the war.

James is busy boxing raisins, it is some late but help was very scarce during the entire season & he cannot accomplish as much as he once could.  Like your apple crop the raisin & grape crop was short but good in quality & prices much higher, for which we are gratified.

Here’s one written by Josephine Taylor from Bethune, Saskatchewan in 1938. Can you imagine that much snow!

We have lots of snow. I had to get a man to shovel the snow away from the living room window before I could see to do much. The snow was banked up nearly to the top of the window…. We ought to have good crops this year.

Other letters talked about family. This letter from Jennie Barclay nee Taylor was written Dec 2, 1942.

Sister Emma (Nancy Emily Cranston (nee Taylor) passed away Nov 4 after several months of pain and suffering with cancer. Emma was our oldest sister & of course was very much to me. The sorrow is much but of course I knew when coming away fourteen months ago that I would not see her any more. (note: this is Nancy Emily Cranston nee Taylor, my great-grandmother)

Then there are fascinating letters about how world events affect the family. This letter is from Jennie Barclay in 1942  where talks about how the war (World War 2) affects them:

Yes all the Japanese were sent from California. They could not be trusted & like yourselves there is still danger on the coast near San Francisco particularly. There are watch towers through the valley and watchers continually on watch day & night.  We do not expect any japs to strike here but are prepared.

We have dim out orders & all window shades are drawn which seems funny to me as we never did draw our shades in all these years. I suppose you folks are rationed on sugar & coffee etc as we are here. We have not felt stinted for sugar. We have 1.2 lb each wk & get along very well.  Not so many pies of course & few cakes however we can get cakes & pies still at the bakery. Coffee ration has just begun, 1 lb every 5 weeks. We will not use that much at any time as we drink coffee only at breakfast. Gas rationing will not affect us as we do not drive the car to excess as some do of course.

One thing I learned from reading the letters is that family members did visit each other. Not often, but once they did they reminisced about the visit.

We seldom (well never) write letters, instead we use facebook or some other form of social media. It will be interesting to see what our descendants learn about us from our posts.

I’m thinking of posting all the letters. Let me know what you think.

Wilson, Thomas B; Ontario Marriage Notices, 1830 – 1856; Marriage of William Titchworth and Nancy Mulholland; page 56.

1851 Canada Census; William Titchworth Household; Paris, Brant, Canada West; District 2; page 33, line 42; Microfilm C-11714;accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario

1861 Canada Census; William Titchworth Household; Paris, Brant, Canada West; page 25; Microfilm C1109; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario

1870 US Census; William Titchworth Household; Cedar Creek, Cowley, Kansas; line 15; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online];

“Kansas State Census, 1875,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS3B-7SMY-M?cc=1825178&wc=WD7G-VFK%3A1597272361%2C1597272483%2C1597262301 : accessed 7 February 2018), Cowley > Windsor Township > 2 Agriculture > image 1 of 3; citing Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka.

1880 US Census; William Titchworth Household; Windsor, Cowley, Kansas; line 16; Enumeration District 185; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online];

1885 Kansas Territory Census; William Titchworth; Harvey, Cowley, Kansas; line 32; Roll KS1885_29; accessed 20 December 2015; http://www.ancestry.com ; [database online]; citing Kansas State Historical Society; Topeka, Kansas

Kay Corbett Collection; Copy letters written to Pheobe Titchworth, Chester Field, and Kay Corbett in my possession.


Western Canada Genealogy Conferences

There are a few conferences coming this fall in my area. All of them look amazing with informative speakers so you’re sure to learn something. (I’m speaking at the Kelowna conference)

Although learning new skills in searching is important, the social aspect of attending conferences is also important and fun. You might meet someone who is searching the same location as you or you might even find a distant relative. That happened to me when I was speaking in Qualicum Beach. I told the story of an ancestor to make a point and someone came spoke to me later and said “Hey we’re related”. It doesn’t get any better than that for a family historian.

Let’s get out and support these conferences. Stop and say “hi” if you see me.

I’ll mention this one first because I’m helping organize it. It’s in Calgary, Alberta.  FamilyRoots2018



There is also a conference in Kelowna, British Columbia with lots of topics.  Harvest your family tree



Later in the fall Medicine Hat, Alberta is celebrating their 40th anniversary by hosting Diahan Southard and Gena Philibert-Ortega, both excellent speakers.
Celebrating 40 years of genealogy research

Med hat


Save the date for next April for the Alberta Genealogy Society “Back to the Future Conference“. It’s in the planning stages but always attracts many people.


Another language – don’t be afraid to ask!

My genealogy research so far is all in English but one side of my husband’s ancestry is Polish. One day we received a package in the mail from his uncle. We’d asked a few times for any information he had but hadn’t received anything so it was a surprise to get it. Enclosed were his grandparents Polish passports, a copy of his baptismal record and another record written in Cyrillic Russian. We didn’t know what it Cyrillic Russian is entirely foreign to us.

His grandfather’s passport is a great source of information. We were able to figure out where he came from and his birth date.  Passports always have a picture so we knew what he looked like when he was young.

Alexander Shymanski Passport

Passport photo of Alexander Szymanski

The baptism record is in Latin so it is fairly easy to figure out. The great thing about it is  it gives the names of his parents grandparents. What a genealogical find.

There is also a certificate excusing him from military service in Poland; written in Polish but once again my husband could figure it out with help from a Polish to English dictionary (google translate didn’t exist then).

So all we had to do now was decipher the Russian document. I believe we are blessed with what we need when we need it and sure enough when the documents arrived I was working with 2 Russian born people. Both of them looked at the document, frowned and said “I don’t read Cyrillic but let me try”. Each came back and said she couldn’t read it entirely but it looked like a a criminal record check. That made perfect sense. He was immigrating to Canada and needed proof he hadn’t committed any crimes.

The problem was solved because I wasn’t afraid to ask for help.  For years I sat in my office and hoarded my information. Now I share my information and ask for help when it’s needed. You can ask your local genealogy society, someone who might have knowledge of the area you are researching or you can even post your question on one of the many specialized Facebook groups. Let me know how it goes.


Cemeteries 2

As you know, I love cemeteries. You never know what you’ll find when visiting one. I once found a living relative because of a cemetery.

My great, great aunt Pheobe Titchworth married Edward Spelling Field. They moved from Kansas, United States to Metchosin, British Columbia about 1880. While researching this family, I discovered death records noting they lived on Happy Valley Road. Well, with such a whimsical name, this was a road I wanted to drive down. The bonus;  at the end of Happy Valley Road there is a cemetery where my family is buried, right next to the St. Mary’s Anglican Church.

My friend Shirley and I decided to have a little adventure. I met her in Vancouver and we took the ferry to Victoria then drove to Happy Valley Road. We eventually found the road (my navigating skills aren’t so great) and went straight to the cemetery. Sure enough there were the tombstones for Pheobe, Edward and their children. There were also fresh flowers on one of the monuments. I started to vibrate. Someone who cared about these people was living! I had to find him/her.


I had the exact address of the original homestead from the death records. Shirley and I drove up and down Happy Valley Road a few times but couldn’t find the house There were a lot of newer homes so we figured it had been torn down. We drove onto a small road to turn around and in front of us was a big monument that said this is the original Field home. We missed it because it was a farm with small 2 storey home set off the road. I knocked on the door, explained what I was doing there. They were renters BUT had the phone number of the granddaughter of Pheobe and Edward. A call was made and off we went to visit Kay.

Well, Kay is a family historian and her house is a museum. She had everything, a picture of her grandmother, William Titchworth’s will, and even letters. It was amazing. We took pictures, and made photocopies at the store down the street and chatted with Kay while she showed us everything. It was in heaven!

It just goes to show you never know what you’ll find in a cemetery