Wednesday, 19 July 2017

A little trick in finding people whose surname was changed

Most genealogists may know most of the tricks in finding people whose surnames have changed formally or when they have been recorded under the wrong name. Many years ago someone showed me one of them by finding my wife’s grandfather and great-grandmother. 

I used it myself to find first cousins who I had never met. I don’t think my mother, their aunt, ever saw them as her brother divorced their mother in 1927 when they were less than three years old. I believe she knew about them. The children of a half-brother of these individuals grew up never knowing about them either.

When small children are part of a divorce, they often end up with one parent and never see the other one again. That may be especially true if the divorce was bitter and full custody of the children was obtained by one parent. In past times it was usually the mother who got the kids. Not that that was in necessarily unreasonable for many of those cases but it was most common.

My Uncle Randall Miller was married a few times. In between marriages, he lived with another one or two women. He was not a mean or nasty individual. In fact he was quite gregarious, kind and well-meaning, at least as far as we knew him. He just couldn’t seem to settle down for a long period with one partner.

Randall was born in Oklahoma in 1902, on a homestead near Yukon, OK. The family moved to Kansas in 1904. Randall’s parents, my grandparents, rented and operated several farms around the region before finally moving to the Pacific Northwest in 1914. They settled in Oregon for several years, where my mother was born.

Randall’s first marriage was to Violet Marie Gosney, on 10 June 1922, in Bend, OR. They had two children together: Richard, born in 1924 and Betty Jean, born in 1925. The records stop there for the Miller children. The next we hear of Randall is when he married Dorothy Tyler in 1928.

There is no record of Violet Marie, Richard or Betty Jean with the surname of Miller. I looked as well for them with the name Gosney, thinking perhaps she had taken back her maiden name after the divorce. No luck there either. Then I tried the trick of looking just for the three people with their forenames. Very quickly I found them all on both the 1930 and 1940 censuses, living in Oregon, but with the surname of Conner. By 1930 there were two other children in the Conner family: Clarence Dale, born in 1927; and Peggy Marie, born in 1929. Another arrived in 1935 - Patsy Lee. Later information found indicated another son, William, was born sometime after 1940.
 
Portion of 1930 US Census showing the Clarence LeRoy and Violet Marie (Gosney) family living in Portland, Oregon
Now there is some conflicting information on the census about the second marriages of Randall and Violet Marie. The 1930 US censuses show the ages of the parties at the date of their “first” marriage. In both cases it appears that Randall’s and Violet’s ages correspond to the married people on the census rather than a previous union. From that information one would normally assume that any children were of the parents shown. A search for the later Conner children resulted in finding death records that confirmed their mother’s maiden name was Gosney, though, essentially tying the circle back to Randall. Whether or not Richard and Betty Jean were formally adopted by Clarence Conner I do not know yet.


Tracing the family members through their first names only resulted in finding valuable information about my first cousins and their half-siblings. I still do not have all the data I would like but I have a good start.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 6: Floods

Natural events that will come to mind for most readers, and that many may have been affected by, are floods – whether of the rapid overnight or slow-developing over weeks type. Floods are normal things; they happen every year and in almost every river valley. Sometimes they are minor events; other times they are devastating – to people and communities. But they have been part of natural phenomena forever.

Historically most farming communities have benefited by river flooding that brought moisture and deposited rich new sediment across fields.

Seared into human memory, though, are the major, disastrous varieties, when infrastructure and human lives were lost on a grand scale. For family historians, again, such events may have ended up forcing people to migrate or left chaos among the lives of survivors.

In any year, as far back as records exist, one may find descriptions of floods that disrupted communities and took lives.

Naturally occurring floods are almost always a result of major storms. Exceptions are those that arrive as tsunamis (see blog post of 20 June 2017). Along shorelines floods may arise from sea surges, those also produced by storms in the open ocean. Every continent has had its share of large-scale flooding. Those with very extensive river systems or large collection areas may suffer through floods extending over vast areas.

In Europe the greatest disasters from flooding resulting from storm surges, coming ashore mostly from the North Sea. The 1287 St. Lucia flood is reported to have killed 50,000 to 80,000 people in the Netherlands and northern Germany. What had been a large fresh water lake surrounded by farming communities and fronted by barrier islands and peat swamps was turned into an extension of the North Sea – the Zuiderzee. There were undoubtedly many similar floods in the region as sea level rose following the last major ice age. There would be many more such storms in succeeding centuries, particularly during the Little Ice Age (AD 1315-1850), until residents learned to mostly control them with dams, dykes and surge barriers.
 

A major flood hit north-central England in November 1771. A storm broke over the highlands of the Pennines with heavy rain for several days combined with melting of snow in the highest reaches. All rivers flowing out of the region, to the north, south, east and west overflowed their banks, from the source areas to the tidal inlets, over 60 miles in the cases of the Tyne, Tees and Wear Rivers.

In many areas the water arrived in flash-floods with water levels rising over the eaves of houses within minutes. Buildings of all types, ships tied up along the wharves, goods left lying on quays, farm animals and implements and, of course, people were swept away in the raging currents. Bridges, including the 500-year old Tyne Bridge at Newcastle, were unable to withstand the onslaught of water and were destroyed. In some areas, water levels in the lower reaches were over 12 feet above normal, high spring tides.
 
Gaps through Pennine Mountains; Topographic Map of the UK; Mercator projection
Etching of Tyne Bridge at Newcastle after the 1771 flood; source – Newcastle Libraries
In North America, the Mississippi River and all of its major tributaries have consistently inundated lands adjacent to their water courses. They are not called floodplains for no reason!

The drainage area for the Mississippi encompasses 1,245,000 square miles. From its source in Minnesota, it takes on the flow from 10 major tributaries, eventually dumping millions of tons of sediment into its delta area in the Gulf of Mexico. During frequent floods it also delivers substantial volumes of new soil to surrounding farmland in all the river valleys.
 
Mississippi River tributaries, from USGS data
There have been dozens of major flood episodes in the Mississippi basin, from upriver storms, hurricanes arriving from the Gulf of Mexico or exceptional snow melt from the Rocky Mountains and runoff in the tributaries coming from there. The lower Mississippi always seemed to get the brunt of the excess water. The earliest report of a flood is from 1543 when Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto arrived at the confluence of the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers.

The most disastrous flood in recorded history in the United States happened in 1927 as exceptional amounts of rain fell along many of the major tributaries of the central part of the basin. Over 27,000 acres were covered with water, with depths up to 30 feet, primarily in the states of Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. More than 700,000 people were left homeless; 500 people died. Many of the displaced, particularly those in the labouring class, gave up on the region and migrated to northern and Midwestern cities. Following this event, the US Congress passed the Flood Control Act of 1928, charging the US Army Corps of Engineers with the task of establishing controls on the flow and flooding of the river system.
 
1927 Mississippi River flooded areas - Records of the Coast and Geodetic Survey, RG; source – Public Domain
In China, major rivers have also experienced widespread flooding over the centuries. The best documented are, of course, the most recent. In 1931, a combination of melting of large snow accumulations in the western mountain ranges, exceptional and heavy rain in the central regions and cyclone activity from the eastern ocean saw substantial more volumes of water in the system than normal. In addition, “[e]xcessive deforestation, wetland reclamation, and the over-extension of river dyke networks transformed regular flood pulses, which were an integral feature of the fluvial ecosystem, into destructive inundations, which wrought chaos upon human communities.” (DisasterHistory.org)
 
Great flood at Gaoyou, Jingsu province; source - The Great Floods of 1931 at Gaoyou website
Rebuilding of dykes following the disastrous flooding in 1931; Sampans transport the soil to Gaoyou Dikes on the Grand Canal, Jiangsu Province. Source - The Great Floods of 1931 at Gaoyou website
The cumulative causes, both natural and manmade, resulted in a devastating event that affected 52 million people with two million deaths. Following the event many programs were initiated to build new and better dyke systems and institute flood control measures. These were built largely from manual labour of thousands of workers.

Such large-scale floods are not unique to modern times. No doubt all river systems have seen excessive precipitation that resulted in widespread inundation. Where no people were around
to witness the events, they would not be considered as disasters. Today most regions are highly populated meaning that even minor flooding can do significant damage and affect many communities.


Family historians may well find some of their ancestors were affected by floods. Such evidence can be found in newspapers of the day, written up in parish or estate accounts or detailed in many books and other publications.

Monday, 3 July 2017

My Ancestors in Canada in 1867

In a June 27th blog post, Canada’s 150th Genealogy Challenge, on My Genealogy Life, Patricia Greber posted a list of her ancestors who were in Canada at the time of Canada’s Confederation in 1867. She then challenged others to list their ancestors who were also here at the time. It was an interesting exercise, one I not thought of doing before – looking at who was present in one region at one point in time in the past.

Following is a summary of some of my direct ancestors who came to, came through or had been born in Canada when the British North America Act, 1867 was passed.

For reference, Upper Canada colony merged with Lower Canada colony and became Canada West, in the Province of Canada, with the British Act of Union 1840. At the time of Confederation, on July 1st, 1867, each region became provinces on their own – respectively, Ontario and Quebec.

Many of my ancestors came to Canada directly from the British Isles. Gilbert and Margaret (Maitland) Anderson, my 3rd great-grandparents, arrived in Lanark County, Upper Canada from Stirlingshire, Scotland in 1832, with five children. They had another seven, all born in Lanark. From there they moved to Huron County. Gilbert died in Kippen, Huron County in 1871; Margaret also died there in 1886.

My Scottish-born 2nd great-grandfather, Robert Anderson, met his wife, Susan Phillipo, my 2nd great-grandparents, in Brant County, Canada West. They married in Brantford in 1854. Susan’s parents, John and Mary (Manson) Phillipo, also my 3rd great-grandparents, had come over from England in 1838 with three children. They had another four in Brantford. John and Mary died in Brantford in the 1880s.
 
Robert Anderson ca 1900
Susan (Phillipo) Anderson ca 1900

My great-grandmother, Margaret Mary Anderson, was born in Goderich, Huron County, Canada West, in 1857, as were her ten siblings. The family moved to North Dakota Territory, USA, in 1881. Robert and Susan died and were buried in Ransom County, North Dakota, she in 1905 and he in 1912.
 
Margaret Mary (Anderson) Thompson ca 1895
Margaret Mary Anderson met Newton Isaac Thompson, my great-grandfather, in North Dakota and they married there in 1884. Newton had been born in Dunnville, Haldimand County, Canada West, in 1859, and had come to the US with several family members in 1879.
 
Newton Isaac Thompson ca 1895
Newton’s father, John T. Thompson immigrated to Upper Canada from New York around 1835. He met his wife, Elizabeth Emerson, near Thorold, Welland County, where her family lived.  John and Elizabeth, my 2nd great-grandparents, married in 1848, in Niagara County, Canada West. Elizabeth died in the year of Canada’s Confederation, and was buried in Dunnville.

Elizabeth’s parents, George and Mary (Tyler) Emerson, 3rd great-grandparents, had come to Canada in 1836 with four children, including Elizabeth. They had six more in Thorold. Mary died in Thorold in 1845; George lived to 1880 and died in Dunnville in 1880.

The Newton and Margaret Thompson family came back to Canada in 1910, with my grandmother, Carrie Jane Thompson, who had been born in North Dakota in 1889. Their four living children came with them and all settled near Keoma, Alberta. Carrie met my grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard in Keoma, where he had emigrated from England in 1907. They married in Calgary, Alberta in 1914.

At the time of Canada’s Confederation, eleven of my direct ancestors, in three generations, lived in southern Upper Canada, which became the Province of Ontario. The lines eventually connected in North Dakota before coming home to Canada in the early part of the 20th century.


If I had done this summary for my grandchildren, there would be a few more names to add to the list. Perhaps that will be a post for another time.