Thursday, November 22, 2012

Collaboration in family tree research

Before computers became so useful for family tree research the secrets you are trying to unearth demanded more effort.  I read lots of advice, even went to a few lectures.  I located others with the same concerns who could advise me where to look next.  My Grandmother Davidson had left behind a lot of material and my dad and Grandmother Coakwell gave out a few ideas.

The Ontario Archives to check the census was an early destination.  This required a trip to downtown Toronto.  I was successful in identifying my family, confirming some details and learning a few others.  I had been told that Scottish families fell into a naming pattern with the first born son being named after the husband's father and the second named after the mother's father.  For the next census to find the same family with no results.  Gave up that line for awhile, but in the meantime had joined a local genealogy group in Oshawa, my home town.  A query resulted in someone suggesting the family had moved to Perth County.  Joined a group there and all of a sudden some things started to make sense.  There were family photos that had place names in Perth County.  Apparently part of the family stayed in the area, but part moved back to Oshawa for jobs.  The truth was the Davidsons were poor, but hooking up to a relation through marriage things started to turn around.  Musical connection and later a horse connection developed.

The Mormons had set up libraries which were visited in Toronto and Hamilton.  There was some fear of proselytizing, but the Mormons were very careful not to offend, and in fact they tried to help in any way they could.   They had church records on micro fiche and once you could identify which church an ancestor belonged to you could check baptisms, marriages and deaths.  Sometimes one marriage partner had come from another church and you could pursue records from that church.

To get started on my mother's side I heard from my Grandmother Coakwell of a man who had done a family tree for her husband's side.  I phoned someone with the same last name while in Oshawa and got the name, Lorne Proctor in Toronto who lived reasonably close to my Toronto office.   Lorne had been to England in his efforts to trace the Coakwell family.  He told me that the original name was spelled Cawkwell and that anybody spelling the name Coakwell was related to me.  One had invented a high altitude suit for the American Air Force and when he was not paid for it he sued and won.  My grandfather had a greenhouse.  Apparently that went back a few generations.  I was also surprised to learn that my brother had been named Marshall after this grandfather, but the name originated as another relative's maiden name.

In another blog my biggest surprise came after contacting the Markham museum that had been suggested to me by a co-worker.  Part of my ancestry was Mennonite, but unlike the migration to Waterloo migration, mine went to York county where they had insufficient co-worshippers that many married outside the religion.  A Mennonite genealogical group out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania was helpful. Other things started to click.

One relative was traced back to Springfield, Massachusetts which interested me enormously because that is where the first basketball game had been played.  I had actually been to the basketball museum in Springfield on a government grant to do research there a few years previously.  Wrote a letter to the local library and they were able to connect me to a volunteer researcher.  He was very supportive and even excited.  After each family name was explored I would often ask to explore the female side and that resulted in dozens of more photocopies.  One family line was traced all the way back to  the boat that followed the Mayflower.  I was very pleased to learn that, but it dampened me somewhat when I later read that the second boat carried the "riff raff".  I tried following some of them back to England, but not very successful.  No basketball connection.  There was  a connection to the Wright brothers whose ancestors also lived in Springfield.  A strange fact was that I was related to some of the same people, but through different lines, in other words cousins had married cousins in at least one instance.

One of the American connections had a children's book written about them--Sarah Noble.  which was read to and bought for my daughter Heather.

The number of early deaths and second marriages was quite striking.  In some cases my line was related through the second marriage and sometimes the first.  In at least one instance one of my ancestors was born as their mother died.  At a few critical times ancestors moved.  In some instances it was assumed to get a better work situation, but other factors were sometimes critical.  Some left for religious reasons as churches split and others left to avoid being forced into the military.

I remember getting called in the middle of the night (in bed with the lights out) from Saskatchewan. When a strange voice introduced himself I was fumbling in my brain to figure out what connections I had with Saskatchewan.  My Ukrainian father in law was originally from there.  My Grandmother lived in Manitoba for a brief time.  The connection was actually close to the most neglected branch of my research---the Davidsons.

Manley Waddell, a retired engineer was trying to fill in a few blank spots and confirm some details.  It turned out that a sister to a great grandfather Davidson had married a Wadell who took her out west.  We exchanged a few details, but the most interesting part came later.  Manley was not content to sit at home and write letters or make phone calls.   He traveled to Ontario, rented a hotel and drove to Stratford area to check local records and cemeteries.  After visiting him in a Toronto hotel we talked a bit.  After his trips he not only sent me some photos and updated information he had posted my information into the Stratford society.

On my wife's side I learned that many Ukrainians came to Canada as Catholics but converted to Greek Orthodox.  Apparently the Catholic church could only send Polish priests to serve the Ukrainians in western Canada, but they were not appreciated by the Ukrainians who had historical differences.  Apparently the Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska was able to send down priests who were more acceptable.  I was married in an Ukrainian Greek Orthodox church.  My father-in-law's family settled in Saskatchewan at first, but then spread in different directions.  The first pioneers literally dug a hole in the bank of a river to get through their first winter.  Many letters were written and many talks with various Ukrainian relatives.  Developed a liking for some Ukrainian foods and enjoyed their dancing (as a spectator).

The Italian branch came to Canada with some settling in Hagersville and gradually moving to Hamilton.  One branch came from near Naples, home of the pizza and another from Abruzzo.  I actually took an Italian language course and got quite interested in Italian culture, including popular songs, opera, movies, wine and of course food.  Very pleased to learn one of my new relatives is author, Nelson De Mille whose books I always look forward to reading.

One unnerving experience was trying to get together with one of my mother-in law's cousins who wanted to pool our resources.  Before that happened she died unexpectedly and was about my age.

I haven't spent too much time in the last 15 years on the family tree, but my curiosity is easily aroused and I am hoping to get back into it using modern research tools, but also talking to people.

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