Remembering the 9.5 Million Dead of World War I

Canadian actor and playwright R. H. Thomson has undertaken a remarkable project to commemorate the names of the more than nine million people who died in World War I, individually, and at the exact time of each person’s death, no matter what the person’s nationality or military rank.

Over the next four years, those names will appear in various ways. They will be streamed to computers, tablets and cell phones. They will be displayed on the walls of buildings or in public spaces. And they will be distributed in an app to museums, schools and universities.

Among the many nations participating are Canada, the U.K., Germany and France. Russia, where more people died than anywhere else, is considering its participation, but may have difficulty because some of the archives were destroyed. Some countries have declined to take part.

To learn more, go to http://theworldremembers.ca. You can listen to Michael Enright’s Feb. 23, 2014 interview with R. H. Thomson at www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/.

Old Weaving Loom In Use

weaving loomI took this photo of a weaving loom at the National Museum of Scotland (www.nms.ac.uk)  in Edinburgh two years ago. My interest stems from the fact that my great-great grandfather was a weaver in Lesmahagow, near Glasgow, before he came to Canada. Even though I have seen quite a few old looms, I wasn’t sure how they operate.

Today I found a short video on the BBC News website that shows a loom in operation. This loom, rescued from an old barn in Wales, is powered by the weaver’s feet to make cloth for fashion designers. The video can be seen at www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26179200.

To read my article about Robert Hamilton, a Lesmahagow weaver who emigrated to Scarborough, Upper Canada, in 1829, see http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2013/12/from-lesmahagow-to-scarborough.html

Friday factoid: Project Gutenberg

On a summer day in 1971, Michael Stern Hart typed the U.S. Declaration of Independence into his computer and shared it freely online via the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

That moment was the beginning of Project Gutenberg.

As of today, Project Gutenberg contains 44,847 books and texts in the public domain that can be searched via keyword, title or author. I’ve already written about finding a book mentioning one of my ancestors. This is a great way to find out context about various time periods or simply find some great texts to download to your electronic book reader.

Visit the site for your own searches at http://www.gutenberg.org/.

GenWebCanada updates Quebec cemetery listings

Every morning, I read Elizabeth Lapointe’s Genealogy Canada blog, and she never disappoints. Today, she announced that GenWebCanada has updated several cemeteries in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Read the entire blog post here.

The cemeteries in Quebec are:

Huntingdon County

Hillside Cemetery
Labelle County
Chut-St-Philippe Cemetery
Kiamika Cemetery
Lac Saguay Cemetery
Lac St-Paul
Lac Saguay Cemetery
Lac St-Paul Cemetery
Ste-Anne-du-Lac Cemetery
Val Barrette Cemetery
Gatineau County
East Templeton Cemetery
St Raphael Cemetery
Papineau County
Notre-Dame-de-la-Salette Cemetery

Why Did Charles and Mary Mathieu Move Back to Canada?

According to his Ontario birth certificate, my great-uncle Jean Charles Horace Mathieu was born to Charles Mathieu and Mary Agnes Proulx in Fort William, Ontario on April 24, 1911.[1]

Ten years later, the family had moved to 500 Aylmer Avenue in Windsor, Ontario, where they were renting a six-bedroom house. Both parents were 51 years old. His father Charles worked as a carpenter. His wife, who was born Marie Agnès Proulx, was then called Agnes. (She went by Mary and/or Agnes depending on the documents.)  Jean Charles had two older brothers, Arthur (16) and Raymond (14), an older sister Fernanda (12) and two younger brothers, Lawrence (8) and George Albert (6). [2]

My great aunt told me that most of the family, except for Raymond, moved back to Canada from Michigan after his dad lost his job in the depression.

I wasn’t able to find them on the 1930 U.S. Census, so if they did go to the States and returned, the entire experience probably happened between 1921 and 1930. There is one person who has a family tree on Ancestry who indicates that a Fernanda Mathieu crossed into Canada in 1924. That may have been John Charles’ sister, but it isn’t confirmed.

They were back in Montreal by August 8, 1940, when Jean Charles volunteered for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

To find out their address, I used Steve Morse’s search engine at Steve Morse’s website to search Lovells directories. I found carpenters named Charles Mathieu living at 6760 St. Denis in 1932[3], and at 3286 St. Antoine in 1940[4]. There were no listings for carpenters of that name from 1933 until 1939. Also, I don’t have anything to say whether these listings actually represent Charlie’s family.

My original question remains a brick wall.


[1] Photocopy of Province of Ontario pocket birth certificate issued at Toronto on November 10, 1947, registered in April 24, 1911 in Fort William, Thunder Bay District by Geo. H Dunbar, Registrar Dunbar.

[2] 1921 Canadian Census, Province of Ontario, District of Essex North, Roger West Minard Subdistrict, Number 47, June 13, 1921, B, Page 20, derivative source.

[3] Lovvell’s Montreal Alphabetical Directory, 1932, p1456

[4] Lovell’s Montreal Alphabetical Directory, 1940, p1771.

Are we responsible for ancestors’ mistakes?

Learning about the Acadians, fur-traders, immigrants, soldiers, farmers and business people who are among my ancestors usually gives me strength and fills me with gratitude. I know that the decisions they made led to opportunities that have enabled me to thrive.

My parents and ancestors gave me many gifts, including a safe, happy child-hood and ongoing friendships with my aunts, uncles and cousins. I grew up knowing all four of my grandparents and some of their siblings, something that lots of children don’t enjoy. I especially appreciate those relationships now that three grandparents have died and my great-aunt and grandmother are both bedridden.

But what about the liability side of that leger? Do my children and I bear any responsibility for the mistakes of ancestors who are now dead?

There’s no inheritance to consider and Canadian law doesn’t require families to honour the debts of people after they die. If they did, there would be at least one ancestor who could cause us problems. The scoundrel got his clients drunk and stole from them. I’ll probably find others like him as research continues, although I hope not.

There are several ethical considerations beyond finances though. Do my children and I have a moral responsibility to atone for our ancestors’ actions too?

If the answer to this is yes, then what would the limits be?

Are we responsible for only people in our direct line or do cousins’ actions count too?

What if there are family stories about misdeeds but no documents? Do those count?

How far back do we go and does it matter where they lived? A century? In that case, my responsibility is limited to actions in Belgium, Canada, England, France and North Dakota, I think. (My mom’s dad’s parents emigrated from England and a few women came from Belgium but so far everyone else has been in Canada since the mid-1600s or so. As far as I know. I haven’t done my mom’s side very far back yet, but my great grandmother and her parents were born in Canada.)

Would the actions of step-grand-parents count? If so, then add Scotland for my grandfather.

My kids get all those plus Portugal.

If we do bear responsibility for ancient wrongs, what could we possibly do to make up for the actions? Apologize? Pay the victims? Say a bunch of hail Mary’s in private? Volunteer for organizations that make up for the misdeeds? Donate to these organizations? Find the ancestors of people my ancestors hurt and make some sort of deal with them?

How do you ensure that searching for reconciliation does no harm? We have lots of soldiers who participated in wars long-past. If we attempt to atone for those, don’t we risk reviving historic family blood feuds that are better left alone?

Those are just some of the questions raised by the idea taken on an individual level.

On a societal level, things get even more complicated. Nonetheless, successive Canadian Governments are taking responsibility on our behalf for historic wrongs. They’ve provided funds and apologies to communities for:

All of these issues are heart-breaking and I’m relieved that the government found a way to direct some funds to the living people who suffered from past policies. The payouts to communities on behalf of people who have died trouble me more, but I imagine that these were made to limit potential payouts from future lawsuits.

I also question how the Canadian Government can act responsibly to atone for the past on these issues and yet refute the argument that today’s population is responsible for past errors during worldwide negotiations to deal with climate change. Canada clearly benefited from historic industrial development while poorer countries did not. This decision pit the Canadian Government against environmentalists and was part of the impetus behind the Idle No More movement (http://www.idlenomore.ca/).

Idle No More raises Canada’s most difficult challenge on both an individual and society level—reconciling with our First Nations people.

Reconciliation is hard enough if we look only at people currently living. It becomes even trickier when the lives of ancestors are considered.

I believe that this is where individuals can make a big difference. We’ll all be able to tell better stories if we carefully trace, document and repatriate our Cree, Ojibway and other First Nations people along with the rest of our family members.

Our families need to be whole.

Listening to Genealogy experts in my Sauna

A few of them made long car rides to Ontario flow by quickly. Others made visits to the doctor seem shorter. I’ve even heard a couple while sitting in the sauna.

So far, twenty experts have taught me how to improve my genealogy research while sitting around. All thanks to CDs I ordered of sessions from the Federation of Genealogy Societies (http://www.fgs.org/) 2013 Conference in Fort Wayne Texas.

The Helen F.M. Leary Distinguished lecture by Elizabeth Shown Mills, from http://www.historicpathways.com/ is my favourite so far. Her story about figuring out that a marriage lasted three years by examining a housekeeping bill compels me forward when going through multiple series of papers for some clue to reality. (Also, I found a series of online interviews with Leary herself for free at  http://www.ngsgenealogy.org/cs/publications/videos/helen_f_m_leary).

Tips are good too. Peter Drinkwater, the product manager from http://www.newspapers.com/ convinced me that printing pdf’s is the best way to keep copies of things I find online, because the source information is automatically printed as part of the image.

Eric C.M. Basir convinced me to save photos as tifs.

I never knew that orphans used to be indentured as a way of earning their keep until Angela Walton Raji spoke about the Freedman’s Bureau during the James Dent Walker memorial lecture. Never even heard of James Dent Walker (http://www.aagsnc.org/articles/walker.htm), despite him being the 14th person nominated to the U.S. National Genealogy Hall of Fame.

Lots of different people have spoken about the importance of keeping detailed research logs.

Iowa, Scotland, the Midwest, Iowa, Desmoines—I don’t even know whether I have ancestors in any of those places or not, but listening to research experts describe all the different details about everyday people that were revealed through documents, photos and official records has been so inspiring.

There’s still another 63 conferences to go too, just from the one conference. And next year, the Federation of Genealogical Societies will be combining their conference with RootsTech in Salt Lake City. The dates are set: February 12 to 14.

You can order your own copy at http://www.fleetwoodonsite.com/index.php?cPath=299#.UvbSIPldVvk.

Friday factoid: Military Service Records

You can get more detail about your ancestors if you consult the service records in person.

My grandfather’s previous job as a baker, his relationship with women and the letters send to his family were all part of his service record, but I had to scan every page carefully for these fascination details. I still remember reading those words in the middle of a long form: “burned letters from girlfriends.”

Oh I wish they hadn’t done that.

That crucial form wasn’t part of the genealogy package my mom got before she died either. Nor was the form that talked about his job as a baker before the war or his leave without notice. Nor his will. Perhaps other family members wouldn’t want to know such things, but they are crucial hints to his impulsive character.

Researchers can consult the military service records of anyone who died while serving for the Canadian Armed Forces via Library and Archives Canada.

You can also consult the records of soldiers who died after they served, although you may have to provide staff with copies of obituaries.

The process is straightforward, but time-consuming. Request the records you need prior to visiting Library and Archives Canada, if you can.

I began my search at this site:

http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/military-heritage/Pages/military-heritage.aspx

To find the records of Richard Charles Himphen, I selected the World War II Military Service Collection and typed his last name and first names into the box.

That gave me this screen:

RichardCharlesServiceRecordScreen

This provides all the information you need to access the records.

Click on order records and you get this window:

Orderacopy

I highly recommend that you go  look at the entire record. My mom got the genealogy package of her father’s service record before she died. It didn’t contain nearly as much as his service record shows.

Hope your search is a worthwhile as mine was.

Farewell Sergeant Himphen

I have been searching for any information about my dad Sergeant Richard Charles Himphen since I was a very little girl. My mother has now passed away and did not ever want to share information about him and I suppose always found it to be such a sad time in her life.”

My mother wrote these words in an email on June 9, 2005.

Similar words are read frequently by librarians, archivists and others who hold sacred information about our ancestors.

RichardCharlesHimphenMy grandfather was among 45,000 Canadian soldiers who died during World War II. In addition to his wife and daughter, he was grieved by parents Charles and Violet, brother Robert and two sisters, Rita and Margarite.

Other women grieved too, including Miss M.E. Cull from Kent, who thought she was his fiancée.

Our family found out about her because of a single page in his service file report that says she made a claim as his fiancé.

She wasn’t his only special someone either. Another page in that same file says: “destroyed letters from girlfriends.”

Those same records detail Richard’s military career, which began on a part-time basis at the age of 17. He’d already worked for two years as a baker’s helper at the Canada Bread Company by the time he joined the Active Militia of Canada in October 1937. He was assigned to the 30th Battery of the RCA, where he served until June 1939.

A year later, he left his job to enlist full-time as a private. He signed up with an infantry battalion called the Irish Regiment of Canada, which trained at Camp Borden. His enthusiasm for his chosen path seems clear from a statement on a form he filled out in April 1941. His answer to “state any employment or ambition you may have,” was “soldiering.”

He married Evelyn Doris Johnson in June at the Silverthorne Avenue Baptist Church and shipped overseas in August 1942.

His daughter Marilyn Violet, my mother, was born the following April. He got notice of her birth by telegram in Britain.

His regiment was sent to Italy before he could get home to see her. They arrived in Naples in November.

On May 4, 1944 Richard stuck his left thigh on a bayonet while taking cover in a slit trench during shelling in Cassino. He couldn’t walk for 13 days, but recovered fully.

He fought in Italy for four more months. On September 13, during an action taking Coriano from the enemy, he was mortally wounded.

Major Gordon Brown, who took part, described the day afterwards in a history pamphlet:

in the early hours of the morning, before dawn, the Irish swept down from Besanigo Ridge into the valley which separated it from Coriano Ridge, and began to work their way up towards the town…“B” Company, under Captain Bill Elder, completed the job by finishing the clearing, and covering the Castella feature.”

Richard was pierced under the spine and suffered a “sucking wound to the chest” on his right side. He was brought to the 93 BG Hospital, where he died October 12.

His will was a single signed page in his pay book:

DSC09387In the event of my death, I give the whole of my property and effects to Mrs. R.C. Himphen, 663 Old Weston Rd, Toronto, Ont”

It was signed, but neither dated nor witnessed.

Working together to help genealogists discover their ancestors

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