Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Passenger List Confusion

I have posted before about passenger lists and the difficulty in finding people. Recently I was looking for information for a friend whose grandfather had come to Canada from Romania in the early part of the 20th century. From other family information, including a personal biography written by this individual, we had a birth date and the year he immigrated. As with many cases, especially for non-English speaking people, the record of his name was inconsistent.

Trifu Samoila was born on November 10, 1887, in a little town named Uzdin, a few miles north of Belgrade. The town is presently located in Serbia, formerly part of Yugoslavia. That corner of the country is also a place where many families are of Romanian descent. That was the case for the Samoila family. So, on many documents, there is a mixture of nationality and origin.
 
Part of the outgoing passenger record for the ship, Lake Simcoe, which sailed from Liverpool, England to St. John, New Brunswick on March 4, 1903, showing the Samaila family (copyright-holder The National Archives; image downloaded October 27, 2014 from Ancestry)
Part of the incoming passenger record for the ship, Lake Simcoe, which arrived at St. John, New Brunswick on March 14, 1903, showing the Samaila family (copyright-holder Library and Archives Canada; image downloaded September 18, 2014 from Ancestry)
The ship passenger list shows the family of Roumanian (Romanian) origin. They were en route to Regina, Saskatchewan, which seemed to confirm this was the right family. Later documents, including Trifu’s marriage record and the 1916 Canada census, show his birthplace as Hungary. His Canadian naturalization certificate says his birthplace was “Serb-Croat-Slovakia” and his nationality as Hungarian. Uzdin was, in fact, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. Just to add to the confusion, the family’s surname has been spelled and/or transcribed differently on many records on both continents.

Anyway, both passenger lists show adults Jan/Yan, age 46, and Iconio/Iconia (age 40) Samaila and children, Trifu (11), Adam (10), Totia (4-5) and George (3). On the face of it, this is a nice, neat family. The problem is that it is actually members of two families. Jan, later called John, and Iconia had two sons, Adam and Totia (Joseph). Trifu and George were their nephews, sons of John’s brother, Peter, who had immigrated earlier in 1903. The age of 11 shown for Trifu was not accurate as he would have been closer to 16 years of age. No other immigration documents have been found so we cannot determine why he was recorded much younger than he actually was.

Given all of the other information we have about the family and most of the facts shown on the passenger lists, we have no doubt that they represent the right families. Without the additional data, however, perhaps especially Trifu’s own biography, these passenger lists might only have served to confuse or misdirect a family history researcher.

There are genealogical lessons to be learned, or at least reminded of with this example:
1.      Assemble and compare every kind of information you can about an individual.
2.      All types of records can and often do contain errors or mistakes, whether accidental, intentional or through carelessness.
3.      Question everything. An individual’s own recollections may be faulty especially in what they think they know about other family members and their ancestors.
4.      Be aware of different spellings of names and especially of transcriptions on public websites.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Driving on the Left Side of the Road

At a dinner party the other night, a story was told by one of the guests, John Farnham, about his father, who lived in News Brunswick when the laws were changed to make driving on the right side of the road the rule. John told the story his father used to relate about some of the interesting side-effects of the new regulations.

I did not know, or at least did not remember that, in many parts of Canada, vehicles use to travel on the left side of the road, the same as in almost all of the British Commonwealth countries. On December 1, 1922, New Brunswick changed the rules regarding which side of the road one should drive on, presumably to conform to what was the case in the United States right next door. In Nova Scotia, the law came into effect on April 15, 1923. British Columbia had made the switch on January 1, 1922. Prince Edward Island changed on May 1, 1924 and Newfoundland on January 2, 1947. Ontario and Quebec drivers were already following the practice, having apparently been doing so since before the takeover of the country from the French. The central provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba had also been driving down the right side for many decades.
 
Page one of Amherst Daily News for Saturday, April 14, 1923 – reporting on the changes to road rules about driving on the right side (copied October 20, 2014 from the website, History of Automobiles)
Some newspapers had a field day with the new idea and the potential problems that could come along with the change as described on the website, History of Automobiles, part of Nova Scotia’s Electric Gleaner website.

It seems there was a lot of cross-border activity between New Brunswick and Maine. Many local businesspeople, like milkmen, used to travel back and forth selling their wares and services. To do so meant a trip across a bridge spanning the Saint Croix River. This was, of course, in the days when there were still a great many horse-drawn wagons in use in both countries. Before the changes, vehicle and wagon operators were required to change over to the left lanes in the middle of the bridge to conform to New Brunswick law. After the change, they could continue on their way in the right-hand lanes. John’s father told him that the horses were well-trained and very habitual in their trips into Canada. On reaching the middle of the bridge after the changeover, they automatically moved to the left as they had always done, causing some mayhem with motorists and others travelling south. It was some time before all of the teams had been re-trained to stay to the right for the entire trip.

The same problem apparently occurred between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in the four and a half months they had different driving laws. There were other considerations as well resulting from the changes. The History of Automobiles website reports that “Nova Scotia Tramways & Power Company Limited, which owned and operated the electric streetcar system in Halifax, sued the provincial government to recover the cost of changing the doors on all streetcars to the other side, and the cost of changes in track layout.  In Lunenburg County, 1923 is still known as The Year of Free Beef; the price of beef dropped precipitously because oxen which had been trained to keep to the left could not be retrained — oxen are notoriously slow-witted — and many teamsters had to replace their oxen with new ones trained to keep to the right; the displaced oxen were sent to slaughter.”


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

British Home Children in Our Family

In my blog post of 10 June 2014 I wrote about John Walker Cooper, my wife’s uncle, who was a Cossar boy, one of hundreds of children relocated to Canada from Scotland by Dr. George Carter Cossar. The immigrants sponsored by Dr. Cossar were part of a larger wave of children, called British Home children, sent to Canada for a better life.

The most well-known group were those brought over by Thomas John Barnardo. He founded a charity in London in 1866 set up to shelter and care for vulnerable children in London. It was initially established to take care of children left orphaned by the cholera outbreak in that region. His shelters expanded rapidly over the years as alternative housing to the Workhouse for destitute children. Over time it changed from not only housing orphans but also to providing fostering and adoption services.

The charity still exists today – almost 110 years after the death of Barnardo – still providing support, counselling, fostering, adoption, education, residential and training service for young people and their families.

Approximately 118,000 children were brought to Canada from the British Isles between 1863 and 1939, by over 50 child care organizations. They ranged in age from toddlers to adolescents, all unaccompanied by parents. Of the total, about 30,000 came from Barnardo homes in England.

One the Barnardo Boys was the grandfather of my brother-in-law, Henry John Pettitt. There have been many stories published about the harsh conditions and abuse the Home children were subject to in Canada. According to a Pettitt family historian, the experience of Henry was a positive one. He was grateful for the home life provided and for the education and care that he received as a young boy.

Henry was born in Limehouse, Stepney, Middlesex, England on December 10th, 1867, the son of Henry Frederick Pettitt, a carman, and Mary Ann, nee Minto. Henry Frederick died in 1868 of consumption. In 1870 his mother remarried but she too died within a couple of years, also of consumption. Henry’s stepfather was unable or unwilling to look after the child and he went to live with his maternal grandmother who was by then 60 years old. She did her best but, when her health failed, and no other relatives stepped forward to care for her grandson, she was forced to apply to the Barnardo home for assistance. He was then just nine years old.
 
1876 – photograph of Henry John Pettitt at the time of his admission to the Barnardo Home (from the Pettitt family files, courtesy of Pat Pettitt)
Henry is shown living in the Barnardo Home in Stepney Causeway, Ratcliffe, in 1881. He apparently also spent some time at the Youth’s Labour House on Commercial Road in London, which had been set up in 1882 to provide a home for young men who were candidates for emigration.
 
Photograph of the Barnardo Home at Stepney Causeway, London (image downloaded October 14, 2014 from barnardos.org.uk website)
Henry sailed to Canada on board the SS Polynesian on June 14th, 1883, with 82 other boys, arriving in Quebec on June 25th. He was placed at various homes in Russeldale and St. Mary’s, Ontario. By 1891 he was living at the Barnardo Home in Russell, Manitoba.
 
Photograph of the Russell Industrial Farmhouse in Russell, Manitoba (downloaded October 14, 2014 from British Home Children website)
Henry married Agnes Knott in Russell, Manitoba, in 1900. Agnes was an English girl who had arrived in Canada in 1898. The couple went on to raise a family of four in Russell, from all reports very happily and successfully.


Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.