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


Cemeteries – 52 Weeks

It may be strange but I love wandering through old cemeteries. I wonder what illness went through the community when tombstones have death dates around the same time, and grieve when there is a mother and child with the same death date…possibly because of a bad pregnancy. You can learn so much about a community from the graveyard.

My sisters, however, don’t share the same love of cemeteries. One sister still complains about the time I dragged her around my hometown cemetery when she was young. Another one refuses to go to Ireland with me because she doesn’t want to spend her time going through graveyards. (I only wanted to see 2 of them).

My hometown of Fort Frances, Ontario has a big, old cemetery that fascinates me. Just knowing my ancestors are buried there draws me to it. It’s right beside the river and has lots of trees. Due to erosion, 2 family members, Harriet and Robert Jerry had to be moved to the newer cemetery.

But my favourite place is the Devlin/Lavallee Cemetery or the Devlin Cemetery or Lavallee Cemetery. It’s name depends on which village you lived it. It has the remains of my father’s granddad, Henry Miller and his wife Margaret McCall, some of their children, and Margaret’s siblings. It also has the ashes of my mother. Most people wouldn’t understand but it feels like home there, especially since I knew many of these people.

It’s in the country on a small hillock. It is here that I would like to be buried.

Storms in Life – 52 weeks

When I think about storms in my life the roughest period was when I was trying to conceive. Month to month was an emotional roller coaster. I always related to Mary Munro. She couldn’t have children either. At least that was what I had been told.

Imagine my surprise when I found Mary Jane and her husband Neil Munro listed with a child, Mary C. on the 1901 census. Mary C Munro was born November 22, 1887. She hadn’t appeared in the 1891 census so I was cautious and checked the 1911 census. She was in that census too but this one listed her as “adopted daughter”.

Mary and  Neil had adopted a little girl. My experience with adopted or foster children suggested she was somehow related. I knew from research that the relationship wasn’t on the Miller side so I started researching the siblings of Neil Munro. Since I knew Neil’s parents names from his marriage registration. I went to the Ontario Marriage Registrations on Ancestry and typed only the parents names in the search. Sure enough, the marriage of one sister, Rose Monroe and Arthur Robson showed up. A year later, on November 22, 1887, Mary Christina Robson was born to this couple.

I did more research and discovered that Rosina Robson died of consumption (tuberculosis) on June 16, 1891. Her father would not have been able to care for a 4 year old so the logical thing to do was give her to Mary and Neil to raise since they had no children of their own. This is a very humane way to deal with children.

Mary Christina lived with Mary and Neil until 1914 when she married Howard Stevens and in 1921 she had 3 children of her own.

Although Mary Jane Munro lived through the “storm” of not having children, at the age of 35 she was blessed with a little 4 year old girl to love and raise for 23 years. It’s not the same as giving birth but raising child whether biologically yours or not is a tremendous responsibility and joy, I’m sure.

5c_Tombstone_Mary Christina Robson

1901 Canada Census; Neil Munroe Household; Westminster Township; Middlesex South, Ontario; District 89, Subdistrict D2; page 1, family 3; accessed 24 August 2015;; [database online]; Provo, Utah; Microfilm T-6482; ; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario.

1911 Canada Census; Neil Munroe Household; Westminster Township; East Middlesex, Ontario; District 95, Subdistrict 22; page 18, family 214; accessed 24 August 2015;; [database online]; Provo, Utah; Microfilm T20384; ; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario.

Rose Robson

Ontario Marriage Registrations; Munro, Rose; Robson, Arthur; 1886; Lucknow, Bruce;  #1704; Microfilm Reel 1869960; accessed April 2006; Family History Library; Salt Lake City, Utah; citing Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Canada.

Ontario Birth Registrations; Robson, Mary Christina; Colbourne Township, Huron; #13447; Microfilm MS 929 Reel 82; Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.

Ontario Death Registrations; Robson, Rosina; 1891; Westminster, Middlesex; #10025; accessed 24 August, 2015;; [database online]; Provo, Utah; Microfilm MS 935 Reel 61; citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Canada.

Ontario Marriage Registrations, 1869-1928; Westminster, Middlesex, Ontario; [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010; citing Archives of Ontario, Toronto, Canada

Howard Stevens Household: 1921 Canada Census; RG 31; Folder Number: 71; Census Place: Westminster (Township), Middlesex East, Ontario; Page Number: 9; [database on-line]; citing Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Tombstone; Howard and Mary C Stevens (Robson); Pond Mills Cemetery, Middlesex Co, Ontario; Photos courtesy of Alison Mitchell-Reid [2008], Additions from Dot Sale [2015], Indexed by Alison Mitchell-Reid at CanadaGenWeb’s Cemetery Project.



Speaking and Connecting

I spoke this weekend at “Unlocking the Past 2018” a genealogy conference put on by the Qualicum Beach Family Htaraistory Society. My speaking partners were the renowned Thomas MacEntee, and Leslie Anderson from Ancestry Canada. What an honour to speak with them.

It was a weekend with lots of learning and connecting with other genealogists. The setting was relaxed and attendees enjoyed comparing notes with each other. A great moment was when someone asked me if we were related. After a quick exchange of details we discovered we have a common ancestor. How exciting is that! I also connected with a friend from my childhood, who attended the conference.

The organizing committee of the Qualicum Beach Family History Society was welcoming, helpful and, well, organized.

A shout out the Beach Club Resort in Parksville who hosted the event and drove Sally to the bus depot. The customer service there is amazing.

Now it’s time to go home and get some rest.




Maiden Aunt – 52 Weeks

Out of 7 children born to Reuben Clarence Taylor and Leah Jane Titchworth (married December 3 1863 in Paris, Brant County, Ontario), only 3 married. Nancy Emily married Hamilton Cranston; Jane Electa married James Barclay; and William John Brown married Ida Johnson. Their other son, Thomas, was born with an “unsound mind”.

That left 3 daughters, Olivia Huberta (Bertie), Margaret Amelia, and Josephine who were maiden aunts (great-great-great aunts to be precise). According to family members, all three had a trade. Bertie was a milliner in Detroit, Michigan, Margaret worked in well-to-do homes and painted china, and Josephine ran a grocery store in Bethune, Saskatchewan.

Josephine Taylor_Bethune Sask

Josephine Taylor in Bethune, Saskatchewan

How did Josephine end up running a store. Well, sometime between 1906 and 1911 Reuben, Leah, and Josephine along with William and his wife Ida moved to Saskatchewan. They ended up in Bethune, where William purchased a store and Josephine was supposed to run it and look after her aging parents. Something went wrong and by 1911 Reuben and Leah were living with William and his family. Reuben died in 1912 and at some point Leah moved back to Comber. But Josephine and William remained in Saskatchewan. Josephine continued to run the store until 1938 when she had to close it down.

I always wondered why she stayed in Saskatchewan even after everyone else left. From letters she wrote to her Aunt Phoebe and cousins in BC it sounds like she had a social life and many friends in Bethune. She went to dances, helped sew quilts for “the boys overseas, and sewed. Apparently she didn’t like curling though.

Of her mother’s funeral she says,

“The masons looked after everything for me. The minister, the funeral director, and pall bearers were all masons.There was lots of lovely flowers sent in…” (Her mother died in Detroit while visiting Bertie but was buried in Bethune beside her husband)

A year later she wrote about helping a friend whose mother just died.

Josephine, started out as a seamstress in Ontario, but as an unmarried woman, she learned many new skills in Saskatchewan.

“I am quite a carpenter. I can repair locks on doors, make egg crates and anything like that. I was out Saturday and this morning changing the hen yard. I have six hens…”

She still missed her siblings; many of her letters talk about family (a great find for a family historian) and how she feels ignored by them. My favourite complaint was how she thought Will would stay and visit after the funeral but he stayed only for the funeral, catching the train as soon as it was over.

She had no desire to go “back east” but eventually had no choice. With a poor economy and little money she was forced to return sometime after 1941. Josephine died in Chatham, Ontario in 1961.

Tombstone_Josephine Taylor 1874 - 1961

Tombstone of 4 unmarried children of Reuben and Leah Taylor at McDowell Cemetery near Comber, Essex, Ontario

Ontario County Marriage Registers; Paris, Brantford, Ontario; p 127; LDS Microfilm 1,030, 055; citing Archives of Ontario

1911 Canada Census; Village of Bethune, Regina, Saskatchewan; Page: 12; Family No: 139, (database online); citing Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario

Kay Corbett Collection; Letters from Josephine Taylor to Pheobe Field (nee Titchworth)