The night before three-year-old Arthur Hamilton became ill, he was reciting a rhyme and joking about lisps and kisses and mistletoe with a family friend who was helping put the children to bed. Someone – his mother or the friend – recorded those words in his baby book.
The following day, Arthur came down influenza. In fact, everyone in the house – his parents, his twin brother and his two older siblings – got sick. The others recovered, but Arthur did not.
When the influenza pandemic reached the Hamiltons’ Winnipeg home in January 1919, it was at its deadly peak. Arthur was among more than 1,200 Winnipeg residents and 50,000 Canadians killed by the pandemic, which was brought to Canada by troops returning from the trenches of World War I.1 Some 21 million people died from the virus worldwide.
Today, Arthur’s baby book, and that of his twin (my father) is in the University of Manitoba Archives as part of the Hamilton Family collection. These cheerfully illustrated booklets include important milestones, such as the twins’ first steps. Arthur’s book is especially moving because of the entry about the jokes he made just before he became ill.2
Archivist Shelley Sweeney has used Arthur’s baby book in the classroom many times. For example, she took it to a religious studies class that was exploring how people react to death by expressing regret and memorializing the person who has passed.
“It strikes people as so unbearably sad,” she says. “There are always sympathetic expressions and murmurs when I talk about it.”3
The death of a young child like Arthur seems especially sad, but the influenza pandemic traumatized whole communities. Some people lost family members to the flu after having already lost sons and brothers in the war. Many of those who died were between 20 and 40 years old, in the prime of their lives. Children were left without parents, families without income earners, businesses without customers, and manufacturers without workers. Poor neighbourhoods had the highest death rates.
Some people compared the pandemic to the Black Death of medieval times. The government banned large public gatherings to try to control the spread of the virus. Hospitals and physicians were overwhelmed.
My grandfather was a physician and my grandmother had trained as a nurse, but they couldn’t save their son. They tried everything they knew, but there were no effective treatments in 1919.
Their older son, Glen, a future a physician himself, later recalled being taken in to see Arthur’s body. He said, “I can remember on the floor beside his crib there was an enamel basin with boiling water in it – Friars Balsam [eucalyptus oil] – that aromatic stuff you put into body rub, and a little tank of oxygen. And those were the weapons to fight the flu. That was all!”4
My grandfather, Thomas Glendenning (T.G.) Hamilton, was devastated by his son’s death. Not only had he failed as a physician, but, as Glen Hamilton suggested in an interview, T.G. may have felt that he had been too attached to Arthur. “Dad was a very strict Calvinist Presbyterian and he felt that in some way, because he was so fond Arthur …. that he was being punished by the Lord ….”5
Arthur’s death was a pivotal event for the Hamiltons in a way that seems surprising today, but was typical for the time. Many people were deeply religious and believed in personal survival after death. Grieving families wanted to communicate with loved ones who had passed, so they turned to mediums and séances. Between the two world wars, a strong spiritualist movement developed in Canada and elsewhere.6 Glen suggested that Arthur’s death stimulated his parents’ interest in the psychic field.
What made the Hamiltons unusual was the effort they put into exploring psychic phenomena. For more than 10 years, until T.G.’s death in 1935, they held almost weekly séances with a small group of regular participants.7 T.G. became known across Canada, the United States and England for his psychic research, while Lillian played a key organizing role in the background. T.G. emphasized the “scientific” nature of his enquiry, but his grief must have coloured these experiences.
Around 1980, Margaret (Hamilton) Bach donated her parents’ research notes, speeches and photographs to the University of Manitoba Archives, and a few years ago I added a few items, including the twins’ baby books. Today, many people consult the Hamilton Family fonds. Some are interested in psychics, several have used the collection as inspiration for plays and visual art, and other researchers are using the collection to explore how people cope with trauma.
Although many people, including myself, are skeptical about the authenticity of their experiments, it is wonderful to see that T.G.’s and Lillian’s passion is still contagious in so many different ways.
(This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca.)
Notes and Sources
T.G. Hamilton and Lillian (Forrrester) Hamilton had four children: Margaret Lillian (1909-1986), Glen Forrester (1911-1988), and twins James Drummond (1915-1980) – my father — and Arthur Lamont (1915-1919).
To read more about the Hamilton Family fonds, see http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/digital/hamilton/index.html
1 Janice Dickin, Patricia G. Bailey, “Influenza”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/influenza/ (accessed March 20, 2017)
2. Baby book of Arthur Lamont Hamilton. University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections (UMASC), Hamilton Family fond, A10-01, Winnipeg.
3. Personal email communication with Shelley Sweeney, March 23, 2017.
4. James B. Nickels. “Psychic Research in a Winnipeg Family: Reminiscences of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton”, Manitoba History, June 2007, p. 5.
6. Esyllt Jones, “Spectral Influenza: Winnipeg’s Hamilton Family, Interwar Spiritualism and Pandemic Disease,” in Magda Fahrni and Esyllt W. Jones, editors, Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society and Culture in Canada, 1918-20, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012, p. 195.
7. Janice Hamilton “Bring on Your Ghosts!” Paranormal Review, winter 2016, p. 6. This edition of the magazine, published by The Society for Psychical Research in England, is entirely devoted to the psychic research carried out by the Hamiltons.
Elizabeth Mowat is my great great grandmother. I didn’t even know her name before I began my genealogy quest. I still don’t know much about her but I now have a photograph, a portrait of her in her “go to church clothes” with the requisite black bonnet.
There were no pictures of her in the box that started my family history search, although there was a family photograph of her husband William, her son Donald, his wife Alice and three of their children, William, Mary and James Dickson. I originally thought Elizabeth was alive at the time, so why on such an occasion was she not with them at the photographers? It later turned out she died in 1883 and not the assumed 1888.
It was through the internet and RootsWeb that I finally saw her face. Robert Harkness, from her daughter-in-law Alice’s line, said his family had lost all their old photos and information in a house fire but his uncle might know some family history. I wrote to his uncle, Bruce Harkness but did not hear anything. Then a couple of months later I received a letter from a George Dickson with photos and stories. He was also a relative of Alice’s and lived in the same apartment building as Bruce, in Belmore, Ontario. Bruce had shared my letter and it was George who responded. In the package was a picture of Elizabeth.
She was born in 1829 in Pulteneytown, Caithness, Scotland. Her parents were James Mowat and Isabelle Houston. It doesn’t appear that she had any siblings or at least any that survived to the 1841 census.
She married William Sutherland a shoemaker and 13 years her senior, May 1845, in Pulteneytown and they set out for Canada soon after. They sailed with two of William’s nephews and their wives so he had some family with him, but Elizabeth left her family and her life, never to see them again. There are Sutherland letters that have survived which reported on all the neighbours and friends so I assume the Mowats also heard about their daughter’s new life and family.
Elizabeth and William had seven children, William, James, Donald, Christina, Isabella, George, and John. They moved from Toronto to West Gwillimbury and finally to their own land in Carrick, Bruce County Ontario. After clearing the land and farming for a number of years they gave up the hard work and moved back to Toronto.
Elizabeth died in 1883 and William died in 1887. My sister Jeannie and I visited Mount Pleasant Cemetery and found their tombstone. The names were readable but not the inscription. As Jeannie went to the car to get some paper to try a rubbing, the sun came out and it’s angle made the inscription jump out,“The dead in Christ shall rise first”.
Ancestry.com. Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.Original data: Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013
Extracts of entries in an Old Parochial Register. Proclamations of Banns and marriages Parish of Wick, County of Caithnes general register Office, New Register House Edinburch on 26 September 2000.
Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Series: MS935; Reel: 36 Source InformationAncestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938, 1943-1944, and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.Cert.
“The dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16
Writing stories about your ancestors can seem a bit self-indulgent. Who wants to hear about your long dead aunties and uncles? Your own relatives may roll their eyes when you pull out your tablet and talk about the blood, sweat and tears that went into a year-long investigation into an-all-but-forgotten life.
Sure, the genealogy writing exercise may start out as a purely personal exploration (as in Why am I here?) but with careful attention to detail and a sense of humility on your part, the practice can become so much more than that.
Exploring ancestry through prose provides you with a versatile platform to inform and delight your readers. Your stories even may inspire others to take the plunge and explore their own roots while polishing their writing skills.
Genealogy writing is often personal in nature, as in “My great grandmother, Lydia Tittle, was born in 1897 in the poorest part of Ulster,” and it sometimes it comes in the form of the personal essay, as in “When I was a little girl growing up in rural Georgia, I was very close to my Ma Tante Mathilde, my father’s French sister.”
It may sound counter-intuitive, but my top tip to avoid sounding self-indulgent when writing about yourself and/or your ancestors is to use your own natural voice.
What is ‘voice’? Well, storytelling was once a sacred art. The storyteller invoked a muse to tell a certain tale to an enraptured audience. I like to think of ‘the writing voice’ as something similar. Before I get down to writing a first draft, I invoke a piece of my personality to tell the story. For me, it’s a feeling I conjure up, much like I’m told a method actor does before walking onto the stage, and sometimes, as with acting, it can be a bit unsettling to bring up this feeling/personality, even scary. It certainly doesn’t feel self-indulgent. Enveloped in this character/feeling, it’s easier for me to choose the appropriate words and expressions while writing and to maintain a consistent tone for the piece.
The biggest mistake any beginning writer can do is to try to imitate someone else’s voice because readers will pick up quickly on the deception, but if you write stories in your own voice, even if you are still developing your style and technical skills (and what writer isn’t?) your readers will be inclined to be generous with you because they will sense you are ‘opening up’ to them, taking a risk, giving them a little piece of your heart, as it were.
Ask yourself these questions before you embark on the personal essay writing journey:
- Are you using your own unique voice?
- Is your essay and the information contained within worthy of the time the reader will spend on it?
- Does your story have substance? Is it useful, as in informative; diverting as in surprising or funny; or moving, as in sentimental or touching?
- Does your story have universal human appeal so that all readers can relate, or is it aimed at a specific reader with a specific interest?
- Does your story have a take-away, a gift that keeps on giving such as a fascinating fact or two, a broader insight, or some useful research tips that the reader can call upon later?
Genealogists tend to visit a lot of cemeteries, so if those are beautiful places, the experience can be a pleasure. Anyone with Montreal ancestors in either Notre-Dame-des-Neiges (Catholic) Cemetery or in the non-denominational Mount Royal Cemetery can consider themselves lucky: both cemeteries are located on the slopes of Mount Royal, both are filled with trees and wildlife, and both have services to assist genealogists find their relatives.
These cemeteries were opened in the middle of the 19th century after the city’s population expanded, putting earlier burial grounds too close to residential areas. Hygienic concerns became particularly important when cholera epidemics swept the continent.
In fact, because of epidemics, poor sanitation and a lack of clean drinking water, many of the city’s dead were children.
Since Mount Royal Cemetery opened in 1852, more than 300,000 people have been buried there. To check the location of a grave in Mount Royal Cemetery, go to https://mountroyalcem.com/index.php/en/our-services/genealogy-menu.html. The Quebec Family History Society (QFHS) sells a book of 4600 monument inscriptions from Hawthorn-Dale, Montreal’s second-largest Protestant Cemetery and an affiliate of Mount Royal Cemetery. See http://www.qfhs.ca/forsale.php.
Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery, the largest graveyard in Canada, has been in operation since 1874. To find a grave there go to http://www.notredamedesneigescemetery.ca/en/research/locate.htm and click on locate deceased.
When the older cemeteries were closed, people were told they could move the remains of their relatives, but that did not always happen. Every now and then, human remains turn up when repairs are done to Dorchester Square, a former cemetery that is now a park in the heart of downtown. And in addition to proper cemeteries, there are some unusual burial places in the city. Priests and nuns were buried in the crypts of Catholic churches and other religious buildings. Some 6000 Irish immigrants who died of ship fever in 1847 are buried in a mass grave, marked with a commemorative stone, near the Victoria Bridge.
Because so many of the city’s old cemeteries were closed and eventually built upon or used for other purposes, anyone who comes to the city looking to find the grave of an ancestor who died before the mid-1800s will probably be disappointed.
For a list of 110 Montreal cemeteries, current and closed, including crypts and military cemeteries, see http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/ListerCims.asp?MP=E3&TY=M&SS=52
To find out about Jewish burials, see the following article posted on the Jewish Genealogy Society of Montreal website: http://jgs-montreal.org/burials.html
The QFHS has a number of publications related to cemetery histories and monument inscriptions in its library. Go to http://www.qfhs.ca/libraryRecords.php and put cemetery in the keyword space.
Following is a list of old cemeteries primarily used by the city’s English-speaking community. Most of them no longer exist. The links will tell you their locations and other information.
Montreal General Old Cemetery http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=2148
Montreal Old Negro Cemetery – St-Jacques Street at St-Pierre Street in Old Montreal http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=826
Dufferin Square Cemetery – Dorchester Boulevard at St. Laurent Boulevard http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=828
Montreal Old Military Cemetery – Papineau Street at Lafontaine Street in Southeast Montreal http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=831
St. Mary’s Anglican Burial Ground – Malo Street and Bordeaux Street in Southeast Montreal http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=837
St-Hélène Island Old Military Cemetery http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=846
St. Stephen’s Old Anglican Cemetery Lachine http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=2081
Goose Village Ancient Irish Cemetery http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=2717
Field of Honor Military Cemetery Pointe Claire http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=858
Lakeview Memorial Gardens Pointe Claire http://www.leslabelle.com/Cimetieres/AfficherCim.asp?MP=E3&CID=861
Research: Jacques Gagné
Additional writing: Janice Hamilton
There’s a mystery behind the sampler I inherited from my great, great grandmother.
The sampler itself is quite lovely and very detailed, most of the colours still vibrant today. It is edged with a border of stylized red roses. Inside are the traditional bands of letters and numbers in various stitches, along with a large two-storied house, trees, birds, animals, two baskets of flowers and a verse about the challenges of life. The creator’s name is written clearly: Jane Jamieson, Her Sampler, Quebec and a date. 1819? 1844? The numbers are unclear and therein lies the mystery.
Jane Jamieson was born in 1818 in Drum, Ireland to Samuel Jamieson and Jane Stewart. A sampler date of 1819 is therefore not possible, Jane would have been an infant.
Jane’s father was a tenant farmer and according to family legend, had at one time belonged to the Irish Constabulary. He was also a Protestant and a Loyalist. After suffering a series of irritating incidents at the hands of his Irish landlord, Samuel decided to quit Ireland and take his family to where he could farm his own land. In 1836 he, his wife, and their six children immigrated to Canada.
The Jamiesons, along with twenty-six other families, settled in the “highlands” of Megantic County south of Quebec City. Samuel was given Lot 5 S.W. on the First Range of Inverness Township in what was to become known as South Ireland (now Saint-Jean-de-Brebeuf). Their first home was an old cabin that an earlier squatter had left behind.
The land grants were part of a complex government scheme, beginning in 1791 and now known to be largely unworkable, to settle the vast wilderness between Quebec City and the American border. It took until 1869 before Samuel’s 100-acre grant was finally legalized in his name.
Life in Inverness was not easy. The settlers were expected to cut down the forest and unearth rocks to build their homes and to farm. The winters were long and brutal.
They were also very isolated. Craig’s Road, the dirt road to and from Quebec City, was mountainous, narrow, and heavily rutted with the only means of transportation being by foot, by ox cart or, in winter, by sleigh. It could take three days to reach Quebec or up to a full week when hauling a load of wood or charcoal to sell.
Two of Samuel’s daughters eventually left Inverness to find employment in the city. Both Jane and Sarah went into service. Jane worked two jobs, house maid and parlour maid, for a cash total of $3.00 a month.
In 1846 Jane married William Kelly, a wealthy coal merchant from Quebec City, and became mistress of her own home. There is no record of how they met and courted. Perhaps Jane worked in his family home. Jane and William had five children: James, Eliza, Samuel, Annie and Emma, my great grandmother.
If the date on the sampler is actually 1844, then Jane made the sampler as an adult, two years before her marriage, and not as a child as was the norm at the time. She perhaps learned the various stitches from a fellow domestic, or even her mistress, and created the sampler in her free time, likely something to be tucked away in her hope chest until the day she married. The large house in the sampler may have been the one in which she was employed. One might even suggest that the trees, the birds and the animals were reminiscent of her earlier life in Inverness. So too might have been the reference to the challenges that she “would overcome in the by and by”.
Jamieson Harper, Helen. The Jamieson Family, 1995 (part of a research project by Gwen Barry Rawlings)
Barry Rawlings, Gwen. The English 180 years in rural Quebec-Megantic. The Canadian Genealogist, Vol. 3, No.2, 1981
The Kelly Family Bible – now owned by the writer
Between the early 1600s and 1755, a community of French-speaking farmers known as the Acadians thrived in Nova Scotia.
In 1755, war between France and Britain spilled into North America. When the Acadians refused to swear an oath of allegiance to the king of England, the colony’s British governor ordered the Acadian people deported. By the fall of that year, some 1,100 Acadians had been forced to board ships and were being transported to the American colonies including Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York. By 1758, most of the Acadians who lived on Île St. Jean (now Prince Edward Island) had also been deported. Some of the Acadians who escaped deportation died of starvation or disease.
Over the following years, the Acadians scattered. Some ended up in Louisiana and the Caribbean. Others sought refuge in New France, settling mainly in the Quebec City region, including Île d’Orléans and along the shores of the St. Lawrence River. Today, some of their descendants are still living in the province of Quebec while others have scattered across North America and around the world.
You can read an overview of the Acadian deportation, including a list of suggested books in English and French at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/the-deportation-of-the-acadians-feature/
The best place to research the Acadians who settled in Quebec is at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ). You can make telephone or email inquiries in English to the BAnQ in Montreal and to regional branches. For contact information about the Montreal branch and other regional branches, see: http://www.banq.qc.ca/archives/entrez_archives/centres_archives/
You should get a reply in English within a week to 10 days. These are free services available to anyone anywhere, in Canada or elsewhere. Similarly, you can email or telephone your question in English to the Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal (the main branch of Montreal’s public library) or to the Collection nationale within the Grande Bibliothèque de Montréal.
Here are two lists of books available on the subject, mostly in French, some in print, others digital:
Here are some other resources available at the BAnQ:
Here are some other links to information about the Acadians:
For each of the towns and villages of Quebec in which Acadians settled between 1755 and 1775, you will find posted below the web address of the regional repository of BAnQ, the address of the local Catholic parish and a listing of local cemeteries.
The regional repositories of BAnQ contain documents about the Acadian families who settled nearby. Some of the content of files stored at various branches of BAnQ across the province are listed within the Pistard search engine at www.banq.qc.ca however, most family lineage researchers are intimidated by the complex research process involved.
>> Bastiscan – Champlain
>> Bécancour – Nicolet
>> Becquets (Saint-Pierre les-Becquets) – Nicolet
>> Berthier – Lanaudière
>> Cacouna – Lower St. Lawrence
>> Champlain – Champlain
>> Gentilly – Nicolet
>> Îles-de-la-Madelaine – Gaspé
>> Joliette – Lanaudière
>> Kamouraska – Lower St. Lawrence
>> L’Acadie – Upper Richelieu
>> L’Assomption – Lanaudière
>> Louiseville – Maskinongé
>> Maskinongé – Maskinongé
>> Montcalm – Lanaudière
>> Nicolet – Nicolet
>> Pointe-du-Lac – St-Maurice
>> Rivière-du-Loup-en-haut (Louiseville) – Maskinongé
>> Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu – Lower Richelieu
>> Saint-Esprit – Lanaudière
>> Saint-Jacques-de-Montcalm – Lanaudière
>> Saint-Ours – Lower Richelieu
>> Saint-Sulpice – Lanaudière
>> Trois-Rivières – Trois-Rivières
>> Yamachiche – Maskinongé
One of my earliest memories has me travelling by bus to the Weston library with my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. For some reason, the Carnegie Foundation in New York provided a grant to build the stunning structure in 1914 despite its Ontario location along the Humber River.
I’ll always be grateful.
Recent visits to the location feel peaceful somehow, as if several generations of residence in that spot left traces in my DNA.
An Irish ancestor at last!
The 1871 census shows great granny’s mom Kezia Charlotte McMaster, who was then 12 years-old, living with her family in 130 Mono Cardwell. Her mother was a 54-year-old Irish immigrant named Ann McMaster. Other family members included 24-year-old Andrew, 20-year-old Alexander, 16-year-old James and 14-year-old Ann Eliza.
Seven years later, at the age of 22, Kezia married 38-year-old John Paul Charboneau on a summer day in August. The marriage licence describes him as a Francophone Church of England man working as a cooper building barrels and utensils out of wood.
Their son Paul, my great great great uncle, came along on March 13, 1888.
His sister Charlotte, my direct ancestor, was born in Orangeville seven years later.
Charlotte and Arthur
I don’t know how they met, but great grandma Charlotte married British Immigrant Arthur Johnson in Weston on February 9, 1917. Before the wedding took place, they had to sign a “degrees of affinity” document to confirm that they were not blood relatives.
Like her mother, she was 22 years old at the time.
The wedding took place close to her home on Cross Street. His parents, William Johnson and Mary Young attended, as did hers. Their witnesses were Albert and Aimie Johnson who lived nearby on Fife Avenue.
Given their last names, it’s likely these witnesses were also ancestors.
Charlotte and Arthur remained in Weston from then on. Their daughter, her daughter and I all grew up in the village.
The couple only left Weston in their nineties to move in with their daughter in Midland during the last decade of their lives.
 http://welcometoweston.ca/about-weston/history-of-weston, accessed February 22, 2017.
 Canada Census, 1871,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:M47F-Q6P : 13 November 2014), Kezia Mc Master in household of Ann Mc Master, Mono, Cardwell, Ontario, Canada; citing p. 40, line 10; Library and Archives Canada film number C-9959, Public Archives, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm 4,396,686.
 Canada Census, 1881,” database, Library and Archives Canada film number C-13249, Public Archives, Ottawa, Ontario; FHL microfilm Reference: RG31 – Statistics Canada, Item Number: 3601574.
 Canada Births and Baptisms, 1661-1959,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/F2F8-X6G : 27 November 2014), Keziah Macmaster in entry for Paul Charbonneau, 13 Mar 1888; citing Toronto, York, Ontario, 13 Mar 1888, reference cn 901245; FHL microfilm 1,872,230.
 Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database with ages, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:278P-XTC : 10 April 2015), Keziah Mcmaster in entry for Arthur Johnson and Charlotte Charboneau, 09 Feb 1917; citing registration , Weston, York, Ontario, Canada, Archives of Ontario, Toronto; FHL microfilm 2,130,929.
The Blacksmith of Bridge Street
The young Finnish merchant marine, Johan Hjalmar Lindell along with his mates went in to Boston while the ship was anchored. While ashore they were all encouraged to drink and they had more than a few pints. The drunken sailors were brought back on board ship. When Johan and another mate realized that they had been “shanghaied”, they decided to swim ashore. They had previously planned to remain in the United States, the land of opportunity! They were successful. A decision neither ever regretted.
From all accounts Johan had a happy childhood. He was born in 1874 in Tampere, in southern Finland. During his early years he received love, affection and caring from both parents. A tragic turn of events changed his life forever. His mother died. He was devastated. His father was a handsome, energetic man who before long began to seek a new companion. The step-mother was not very understanding toward the young lad and he would often find the cupboards locked. Unable to satisfy his appetite, he decided he could not live this way and made a decision to run away! He was twelve years old.
From the stories told over the years, he made his way to St. Petersburg, Russia, as a slender fellow, with nimble fingers he worked in a woolen mill, his dexterity and size being an asset. This work, however, would not last. It was time to move on. His adventurous spirit took him to far-away places. During his travels, he learned to be a blacksmith, a trade that would serve him well later in life. He made his way to the open seas and for several years he was a merchant marine who sailed the Seven Seas.
In the early 1880s after being shanghaied in Boston, Johan made his way to Pennsylvania. Upon learning there was a large Finnish community in Ashtabula Harbour, Ohio on Lake Erie. He headed north. His early years were spent working on the iron ore boats on the Great Lakes.
In 1903 he married young Ida Susanna Karhu, born in the early spring of 1886 in Isokyro, Finland. She had immigrated in 1896 landing at Ellis Island with her mother, Sanna, brother Jacko and his sister, Lisa Whilemena and were living in Ashtabula where the father had already established a home for them.
Johan and Ida had eight healthy children and lost a son at birth. They raised their family while Johan, or John or Herman, as he was sometimes known, worked at his blacksmith shop on Bridge Street in the Harbour. He had four forges and shod the horses that hauled the brewery wagons. He built wagons used for hauling coal. He also served as a court interpreter, an inventor, and banker.
The family lived above the shop. About a mile outside of town they also had a small farm. For many years the Lindell family thrived.
Times were changing and with the Ohio Dry Campaign of 1918 and the Women Christian Temperance Union’s actions, business at the blacksmith shop slowly dwindled. There were fewer horses to be shod and before long the large brewery companies pulled up stakes. They left town without paying their bills. There were young children at home. Kaarlo his oldest son worked as a cook on the iron ore boats on the Great Lakes. He loaned money to his father. Grandfather was grateful for his son’s assistance and he made it up to him as the economy improved. Grandfather continued to work as an interpreter, along with all his other various ‘irons in the fire’. He was a resourceful man. He even tried his hand working on automobiles.
The 1940 United States Census report indicated it was the first time Johan had made the necessary inquiries about obtaining citizenship, although he had been in the United States for close to fifty years. At that time, perhaps it was a requirement that he work outside his business in order qualify to receive Social Security benefits. It was war time and he was in his mid-sixties. He began work in a munitions factory. While working there to secure his benefits he was struck by a young worker driving a tow motor (fork-lift). He was hospitalized and died several days later in 1944. He was seventy years old. He was to retire from his work in six weeks. Ida Susanna received the benefits Johan had worked so hard to obtain.
Twists and turns throughout his lifetime made Johan Hjalmar Lindell a strong, vibrant man who lived life it to the fullest. He lived long enough to see his son, Kaarlo go to University and became a successful engineer. His daughter, Helen a registered nurse. All his children, except Alpo, who was a merchant marine, raised their families and had children of their own. Some stayed in Ohio. Others headed for California. Kaarlo ( Karl) settled in Canada.
Johan is buried in Edgewood Cemetery in Ashtabula, Ohio. In December 1967 Ida Susanna died and is buried beside her first love.
Altonen, Karhu, Kuivinen, Lindell Family Reunion 1919
The older couple sitting in the center of the photo – Johan and Sanna Karhu, grandparents, grandmother Ida’s parents. They are surrounded by their family. Johan Hjalmar, Grandfather, Ida and their eight children are in the left side of the picture. Kaarlo is standing directly behind his grandfather, beside Ida who is holding baby brother Alpo
I never knew my Grandfather, but, certainly wish I had! What I do know is from stories my father, Karl told me over the years. In 2010 I attended an Altonen, Karhu, Kuivinen Lindell family reunion in Ashtabula and visited with cousins. This was my first visit to the area. It was a heartwarming experience to meet with relatives and see the sights my father had so often spoken of; the harbour, the lighthouse, Bridge Street where Grandfather’s blacksmith shop was and the famous Bridge Street bascule swing bridge that crosses the Ashtabula River not far from his shop.
During my grandfather’s time Ashtabula was a thriving port. Iron ore was being transported up and down the Great Lakes. The railroads were busy transporting goods. Today there is very little activity in the port. For many prosperity in the harbour is but a distant memory.