My great uncle, Holmes Miller, was a dispatch rider in World War 2. He rode an Indian Motorcycle delivering messages back and forth from the front lines. This was a lonely, dangerous job. They ” travelled unmarked roads, sometimes under fire or strafing, often in the dark without headlights…” Holmes would ride a motorcycle through shelling. He was once shelled by friendly fire. After he was wounded on the motorcycle, he was transferred to warehousing, ordering supplies.
The upper left picture is part of the 37th Battery in Petawawa 1940. Uncle Holmes is the 3rd from the left front row. Bottom left picture I’m not sure if this is an Indian motorcycle but similar. Picture on right is Holmes and Edna on their wedding day.
Uncle Holmes enlisted with the 37th Field Battery in Fort Frances, Ontario. He trained at and Fort Frances and Petawawa with the other Rainy River District boys. In Petewawa he met his future wife, Edna Richardson. They married July 2, 1941 in Pembroke, Ontario.
He served in England, U.K., Central Mediterranean area, Continental Europe, Italy and France. Uncle Holmes was discharged on October 17, 1945.
Two sisters of Elizabeth Beatrice Letcher (nee Atkins) were also sent to Canada with Dr. Bernardos Homes. Like Beatrice, they were both at Barkingside Village prior to coming to Canada. On October 7, 1905, at the age of 8, Alice Minnie in Quebec, probably on her way to Hazelbrae in Peterborough. Her older sister, Rosa, came to Canada with Dr. Bernardos Homes in March 1907 at the age of 16.
In 1921, Alice was a servant in the household of Alexander Elliot, an optician in the city of Toronto. In 1922, Alice married William James Plested in Toronto. They moved to the District of Cochrane, Ontario. Alice had one son, Doug, who died in December 2010.
In 1911 Rosa was in Port Dover, Ontario working as a domestic in the household of Harry Ansley, who is a druggist. Harry owned a store, so he could have been what we call a pharmacist. The exciting thing is that working with Rosa is Kate, her sister. Kate came to Canada in May 1910.
Rosa then left her employment with Harry Ansley to go back to England. This occurred sometime after the 1911 census. She returned to Canada on March 29, 1912 on board the SS Lake Manitoba, a CPR steamship that went form Liverpool to St John. She crossed into United States at the Niagara Falls, New York border in April of 1912, heading to a domestic position in the household of Mrs A. J. Howell in Syracuse, New York.
Rosa married Frank Thomas Conway in Allegheny, New York on September 30, 1913. She had 3 children, William Thomas, Julia, and Ruth Anne. She died about the 9 February, 1960 in Jordan, New York. She was very active in her church community.
I love Rosa. She was the family historian. It was from her obituary listing her living siblings and exactly where they lived, that I was able to confirm details of lives of many of her brothers and sisters. She knew where her sister, Kate, was and managed to find her domestic work in Canada. She went back to England to visit. Her husband and children even knew the name of the unincorporated community that Alice lived in. Although they were separated, Rosa kept her family close to her.
In genealogy we have our
family tree, the people we know or knew and consider family. Sometimes we also
have a DNA family that is different from who we regard as family. The DNA
family is our bloodline, people we match through DNA. On my mom’s side I have a
grandfather and a biological grandfather. I always knew my biological existed
and his name but that was it. There was no contact with him and he was seldom
mentioned. After taking a DNA test, I was able to connect with some of my mom’s
biological cousins and learn about that side of the family. I decided it was
time to research that family. Although well-sourced research had been done,
there were a couple of gaps. This post and the next few will tell the story of
my biological great-grandmother and her 6 siblings. I’ll start with the eldest child
of Fanny Green and William Atkins, Elizabeth Beatrice Atkins.
In 1902, Fanny Atkins
died leaving a husband, William Elbourne Atkins, and 7 children. I was curious
to know what happened to the children after Fanny died. There are instances in my
Canadian lines where the mother died and the father quickly remarried, or other
family members stepped in to help out and raised a child. I was curious to if
this was the case in Britain, where the family lived. I wasn’t sure what
records might exist to show what happened to these children. The first place to
look for the family was in the 1911 census. I was able to find William with the
youngest son, Jesse, in the workhouse but the other children were elusive
because the name is fairly common.
My first breakthrough was discovering Rosa Atkins on a passenger list stating she was coming to Canada with the Bernardo Homes. I learned of a database at Library and Archives Canada and that lists children that were sent to Canada as British Home Children.
The definition of these children is “a child under the age of 18 who is emigrated by an agency to be ‘adopted’ or placed as indentured servants (e.g. Bardardo, Macpherson, Birt, Middlemore, Quarriers) legally bound to their agency/placements. Often wages were held back until they were adults.”
Sure enough, 2 of Rosa’s
sisters, Elizabeth B., Rosa, and Alice
Atkins, are on the list. It was through clues from DNA family members that I
learned what happened to Elizabeth Beatrice. She went by Beatrice so that’s how
I’ll refer to her.
Beatrice was sent to Barkingside Girls Village in Barkingside, Essex, England along with her sisters Rosa and Alice. Barkingside was supposed to be a “progressive” home for orphaned and poor children. About a year after her mother died, Beatrice was on a ship bound for Canada. She left England on April 29, 1903 and was sent to Hazelbrae Home for girls in Peterborough, Ontario. From there she was sent to work as a domestic somewhere in Canada. Losing your mother is tramatic. Can you imagine being taken from your family at 14 years old then being sent to another country where you don’t know anyone. Then having to work as an indentured servant until you were old enough to leave. She must have been terrified and lonely.
I lost Beatrice after her arrival in Canada. But family members gave me clues to her married name. She had a daughter, Beatrice Letcher. Well, searching for Beatrice Letcher brought me to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. In 1911, Beatrice Atkins was a domestic for Alice Herman or Harman in Moose Jaw. Alice ran a boarding house with 16 people living as lodgers. I can’t find her anywhere between 1903 and 1911. As far as I can tell she wasn’t in Moose Jaw in 1906.
She married Frank Letcher before 1913 and had 3 children; Beatrice in 1913, Frank in 1921, and Norma in 1923. The 1975 obituary for Frank Letcher indicates that their daughter Beatrice married W.W. Burns and lived in Surrey, British Columbia. Frank moved to California with his wife and children. Norma was not mentioned in Frank’s obituary, she may have died before 1975. Frank owned Letcher Auto Electric which still exists today, but may not be owned by the family.
Elizabeth Beatrice Letcher
died on December 14, 1951 in Moose Jaw. Although she was separated from her
family, I know there was contact with at least one of her sisters. There are family
pictures from when she visited Kate Harrison, in Cochrane, Ontario. There is
also a story that my grandfather went out west and must have visited the
family. I like to think that creating a family of her own and keeping in touch
with her siblings would have made he happy after such a terrifying beginning to
Sources 1911 England Census [database on-line]. Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England; Ancestry.com (database online); Provo, UT, USA: Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA), 1911.
1911 Canada Census; Moosejaw, Saskatchewan; District 124; Page: 29; Family No: 223; Ancestry.com. 1911 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA; Citing, Series RG31-C-1. Statistics Canada Fonds. Microfilm reels T-20326 to T-20460; Library and Archives Canada. lac.gc.ca/eng/census/1911/Pages/about-census.aspx.
1916 Canada Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta; Census Place: Saskatchewan, Moose Jaw, 17C; Roll: T-21931; Page: 21; Family No: 252; Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009; “Census returns for 1916 Census of Prairie Provinces.” Statistics of Canada Fonds, Record Group 31-C-1. LAC microfilm T-21925 to T-21956. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa; in 1916 Beatrice is married to Frank Letcher and has a 3 year old daughter.
1926 Census of the Prairie Provinces; Moose Jaw Saskatchewan District 27 Subdistrict 72; library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; I was unable to find the family in the 1921 Canada Census.
Moose Jaw Obits 1970-1998; Saskatchewan Genealogical Society; Moose Jaw Branch; http://moosejawgenealogy.com/obits.htm; someone from the Moose Jaw genealogy society was kind enough to send me a copy of Frank’s obituary. She was unable to find one for Beatrice.
It’s fascinating to watch the flow of a family immigrating. What surprised me was they didn’t decide to hop on a ship and arrive en masse. Often one or two family members came to the new country and settled. Other family members, siblings, in-laws, cousins, or even neighbours followed. Imagine the letters being sent back home, encouraging them to come. The first ones to come may have been the bravest, or possibly the most desperate to get away. In the new country family members would live close to each other or share the same house until they were more established.
The family of Samuel and Elizabeth Searles leaving Wales to come to Canada is an example of this migration. In this case it happened in a short period of time, 1906 to 1910. The first 2 daughters to leave of Cardiff, Wales were Bessie Drake and Sarah Marsh. Bessie and Sarah arrived in Canada with their husbands and children on August 17, 1906. It was almost a year before other family members emigrated. During this time, were Edward Drake and William Marsh looking for jobs and a place to live? Were they trying to earn money to send back to Wales so the others could afford to come or did it take a year to persuade those still in Wales that moving to Canada was worth it?
Bessie Drake at the house on Gerrard Street in Scarborough, York County, Ontario.
In May 1907, Samuel Searles with his daughter, Alice, and son-in-law, Sam Fudge, arrived. Alice likely came to keep house for the men. It wasn’t long, about 2 months, before Elizabeth Searles came with her daughter Lilian and reluctant son, William. Travelling with them was Ellen, wife of Sam Fudge with their children.
It was over 3 years before the last daughter, Blanche, her children and husband George Nelson arrived in Canada. They brought with them William Harford, husband of her deceased sister, Mary.
As you can see, the family came over a few at a time. It wasn’t the case of everyone deciding to leave Wales and moving altogether. Interestingly, in 1911, George and Blanche Nelson live with Samuel, Elizabeth and Alice Searles at 2300 Gerrard Street East in Scarborough, York County, Ontario and the Drake family lived at 2298 Gerrard Street East in the same city. They were next door neighbours. The other families also lived in Scarborough. (As an after note these 2 addresses are now a lumberyard)
Moving didn’t always mean leaving the country. In Canada, it may have meant moving to another community or a part of the country that was just opening up. The McCall family did this when they moved to the village of Lavallee in Northwestern Ontario. From their mother, Mary McCall’s, obituary we learn,
“Andy and Billy immigrated here (Lavallee, Rainy River District, Ontario, Canada) from the east and in the fall Andy returned and brought the whole family from Amberley County Huron” [note that they actually came for Ashfield Township in Huron County, Ontario.
Obituary in Newspaper; Fort Frances Times, March 13, 1924; copy in my possession
The whole family included their parents, Robbie and Mary, and siblings, Maggie, Lizzie, and Bobbie and of course, Billy and Andy
A photo of the McCall siblings. Most likely taken around 1900 before they all moved to Lavallee. Left to right bottom row – Elizabeth (Lizzie), Andrew, Margaret Left to right in back – William (Billy) and Robert (Robbie)
It is difficult to move, leaving everything that’s comfortable and homey. With chain migration, the move is made easier because at least some or all your family is with you in the new location.
I spent last weekend at a conference in Edmonton hosted by the Alberta Genealogy Society. What fun it was. I reconnected with Lesley Anderson. She and I met in Qualicum Beach last April and then again in Kelowna. As the ancestry representative for Canada she speaks everywhere. Her enthusiasm and passion for genealogy are evident when she speaks. I also had the fun of hearing Kristy Grey whose presentations will have you laughing as well as learning and Sylvia Valentine whose knowledge of English records is incredible.The latter two are from England and I was envious of their ability zip into the records offices in various counties and see the actual documents. Another speaker I listened to was Ruth Blair, whose depth of knowledge in incredible and of course Lynn Palermo who is passionate bout writing her family history and is currently working on creative non-fiction. Talk to her about it. She has me convinced that it’s one way to tell the story of your family. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hear all the speakers as I was busy.
I’ve said this before but genealogy conferences are a great way to learn how to do all things related to family history. They are also an amazing place to meet people, learn their stories and what they know. Who knows, by talking to someone you may discover a record or method that will help you get back one more generation. Kudos to the organizing committee. They worked hard to host an educational opportunity for us to enjoy.
Speaking of finding people…..yahoo! I met two more DNA cousins. Both are descendants of my great great grandfather Samuel Searles and his wife Elizabeth Atkins. How great is that!
Special thanks to Kimberly, who volunteered to take pictures of me.
I listened to a webinar with Sylvia Valentine, one of the speakers at the AGS conference. She is terrific! She has a great depth of knowledge about English records and so good at presenting it in a logical way. She’s going to be in Edmonton speaking at the Alberta Genealogy Conference. I highly recommend you come to hear her. https://www.abgenealogy.ca/2019-ags-conference-images-through-time
I finally decided to challenge myself and start researching my Irish families. AncestryDNA says that I am 20% Irish and Scottish which seems reasonable since I have a few ancestors from Ireland with Scottish sounding surnames; the surnames I’m aware of are McCall, Ross, Macham,and Cranston. I’ll include the Miller, Young, and Smeltzer surnames. Even though my DNA from them is Western Europe, they did live in Ireland for about 125 years.
The first step in researching is to figure out exactly what I know about each of the families. This will help determine what information I”m missing, making it easier to decide what my research goal will be. I decided to start with the McCall, Ross lines. Robert McCall married Ann Ross in Ireland and they had at least 1 child, probably 2, before immigrating to Canada West.
In 1972, one of the McCall families in Michigan hired a researcher in Ireland. I have a copy of the report and will log all the information in it onto a spreadsheet so I don’t duplicate the research.
My ultimate goal is to take a research trip to Ireland next year.