In Praise of Small, Local Museums
My husband’s grandfather, Thomas Gavine “Fuddy” Wells, born 1868, Ingersoll, Ontario.
My husband’s grandfather, Thomas Gavine Wells, or “Fuddy” was born in Ingersoll, Ontario in 1868,“ the year after Canadian Confederation” as my father-in-law, Thomas Gavine Wells Jr., liked to say.
According to my father-in-law, Fuddy’s father, also Thomas Wells, was a lawyer from England. His mother was a White – and, by the way – the Whites invented the hockey net.
This is everything my father-in-law, who loved to regale us with family stories, knew about his father’s British branch.
It has taken me quite a few years to confirm through the historical record that this information is correct – well, except for the hockey net part.
A few years ago, I started researching the background of my husband’s grandfather, Thomas “Fuddy” Wells, the one born in 1868 in Ingersoll.
As a young man, Fuddy came to Montreal to work as an accountant for his uncle, Thomas White, who had founded an accidental company, Laurentian Spring Water, when he stumbled upon a golden aquifer under Craig Street while digging a well to service a shoe factory. Fuddy eventually became a salesman and then the President of the company.
The dapper gentlemen of the St. George’s Lawn Bowling Club, Westmount, Quebec. Fuddy is seated above the man on grass with splayed legs.
This piece is about my more recent search for more information about Fuddy’s father, Thomas, the lawyer in Ingersoll, Ontario, who was from England, but what part?
But, finding that out was difficult. Putting up my husband’s DNA on Ancestry did nothing to clear up the mystery. Wells is a common name, as is White.
Making things more difficult, Fuddy’s 1868 birth certificate isn’t online, nor is Thomas, the lawyer’s, marriage certificate.
However, Fuddy’s four marriages (yes) are online, giving his birth date as 1868 and his mother as Mary White.
The 1901 and 1911 censes claim Fuddy was born in England, in 1868, (that would explain the lack of a Canadian birth certificate) but the 1881 census (above) confirms he was Canadian-born.
The paper-trail isn’t always to be trusted, it seems.
According to an online notice from the Canadian Law Almanac, Fuddy’s father, Thomas, started his law career in Ingersoll in 1866 – the year before Confederation.
Now, I put all this information aside for a year or two until a few months ago when a genealogist friend said she’d give it a try using UK records. After a bit she got back to me: “No luck. There are just too many Thomas Wellses,” she said.
Then, trolling the Internet for more information, I stumbled upon a brand new net nugget: a citation in the footnotes of a book published in 1989 for “Diary of Thomas Wells, teacher, 1851-1864, Ingersoll Cheese Factory Museum.”
I immediately contacted said Cheese Factory Museum to be told that Thomas Wells’ diary was in the Ontario Archives – and, then, I couldn’t find it on their database. Darn!
But, shortly thereafter, I received another email.
An intrepid researcher at the Ingersoll Museum had taken it upon herself to do a little research about Thomas Wells and she had discovered his obituary in the Woodstock Journal. Bingo!
Thomas, it seems, was born in Fulbourn, Cambridgeshire, 4 miles from the famed University.
His father, John, had a farm there, 326 acres, 10 employees.*
Thomas came to Canada in 1854, to Ingersoll in 1856, and worked as a teacher as he put himself through law school. He was a sportsman, like many of his descendants, and played baseball among other games. (He kept a diary that was used for a very detailed thesis and subsequent book on amateur sports in small-town Ontario.)*
Thomas, said the obit, was “the Dean of Western Ontario lawyers” and was still practicing law at 93 years of age, right up until his death in 1926!
Now, that ‘s a scintillating family story my father-in-law should have passed on to his four children and fourteen grandchildren.
It was every bit as good as the ‘hockey net’ one – and it has the added benefit of being true.
The Professionals of Ingersoll. Thanks to the railway, Ingersoll (between Toronto and London) was a town of note in the 1870’s, with a healthy sporting rivalry with nearby Woodstock. But the hockey net was NOT invented there. According to online info, the hockey net was invented in Beamsville, Ontario.
Westmount High School Football Team, circa 1936. Thomas Gavine Wells Jr., my father-in-law, second row, fourth from left. He played semi pro hockey for a Montreal team, but that career was ended at 19 when Emile “Butch” Bouchard, the future defenceman for the storied Montreal Canadiens, checked him into the boards at the Montreal Forum. He broke a leg. (Wikipedia describes Bouchard as ‘the best body checker of his era.’ OUCH!)
*Fulbourn Valley Farm, as described in a Victorian Era list of Cambridgeshire farms on the Internet. This was a farm slightly above average size for the era in England.
There are other snippets about John and his Cambridgeshire farm on the Net: hail was a problem for his barley crops; his maid lied a lot; his wife took over the farm when he died; and there were two ransacked Roman burial tombs on the farm.
*For the Love of the Sport: Amateur Sports in Small-Town Ontario. Bouchier, Nancy B. (Her thesis is available at Canada’s Thesis Portal.)
(Funny story: researching Fuddy’s life in Montreal for a book, Milk and Water: Scandals, Lies and Covers-Up in Jazz Age Montreal, I came across a 1903 snippet in a newspaper about the St George’s Club and how they evaded Westmount prohibition by claiming to be a private club and not encumbered by city by-laws.)