31 January 2013


Time to come out of the closet. If anyone noticed, the posts on this blog have fallen short lately. Chalk it up to post-Christmas fatigue, but my preferred cause for this unseemly lapse is post-travel euphoria. Oh, but let's not omit the blockage on my family history du jour, or the uncharacteristic faintness at contemplating more research.

You see, I am not only a genealogist. I am a writer. I have been a writer since I almost lost my identity while raising a family. Or maybe since I struggled mightily through that university paper on "De Esse et Essentia." Or maybe before that when I was appointed editor of the Balmoral Hall yearbook, to become the slave of a merciless headmistress, unwittingly beholden to write half the material.

Genealogy does have a creative side in some aspects, but in many (most?) other ways it demands methodical discipline in evaluation, analysis, logic, and structure. That's the part of my head on temporary vacation.

The point is (I'm getting there) I write about other things and for the moment the creative juice drips in that direction---to ruin what could have been a promising metaphor. What other things? Well, the blog I began trepidly some time ago at Nonsense - Nostalgia - Satire - Camels.

It's taken about that amount of time to fix what it is about. Since my family stubbornly fails me as the ripe source of satire I hoped for, I almost lost sight of my own simmering environment. Let me say the Inmates Committee and the Neighbourdamhood present near-perfect windfalls of lunacy. The blog is also a tracker for the mystery/crime/detective/courtroom novels I devour. That was necessary so I don't order/borrow books I've already read, much like I've been known to buy the same book twice (several years intervening, you understand). Once in a while it features thought-provoking pieces on shopping bags, earnest diet advisories, don't leave home in your nightgown, and what have you.   

And CAMELS (continued on from this blog as of May 2012). Not the full gist of my travel journals, just the best parts. In my biased opinion.

Self-promotion is uncomfortable and distasteful for an introvert. Promoting the family histories I published with the print-on-demand company ShopMyBook (formerly was fairly non-existent. OK, there's a link above to "My Books." However, encouraged by Facebook friends who do it to good effect, I'm declaring open season on anotherfamdamily.

Disclaimer: I do not post photos of kittens or human babies or last night's dinner on my blog or on Facebook. Hardly ever.

Image: Fifteenth-century drawing from Robert Irwin's Camel.

© Brenda Dougall Merriman

23 January 2013

Familiar Faces

For years this group photograph has puzzled me. A family reunion, surely. Some of the faces, particularly children, looked so familiar it was like recognizing family faces today. But who were they? No notations on the back. Was it a group of McFadyens in Cape Breton? Dougalls in Manitoba? Frasers in Quebec would be dark horses. I go around in circles.
Whichever family it might be, I wasted a lot of time straining to identify my father as a toddler, thinking it could be the 1890s. Is he the little guy who made a blurry move when the dog nuzzled him? I am hardly astute enough to identify what kind of trees or terrain they chose for the commemoration.

As for dating, likewise I'm no costume expert but a little research helps (or not). The ladies' hats, the extravagant brims (on most of them), and their dress in general might suggest the Edwardian era prior to the First World War. If so, I then reasoned, chances were my Dad was in there as a bigger lad. The only one he could remotely be is the young fellow at the back left. Good gawd, is that a cigar in his mouth? His height and appearance would make the photo on the eve of the War.
One suspects that those seated have some precedence in the arrangement. Eventually I concentrated on the patriarchal figure in the middle. (My grip on the Paint Program needs work.) He has an unidentifiable child on his lap. His cheekbones remind me of numerous Dougalls. And yet, if he is Peter Dougall (1824-1914), evidence shows he became thinner and more gaunt in old age.

Is he the same man as these? --

... both identified as Peter Dougall.

I have no photos of John McFadyen (ca.1837-1915) for comparison, except a grainy newspaper image published with his obituary.

Then there's the wife. Both men would have had living wives. The hatless woman seated to his right does not seem to be Catharine Fraser, Peter Dougall's family-described "diminutive" wife. So how about the tiny woman in black with the bemused expression seated to the left of hatless? My first impression was that she seems much older than anyone, wearing widow's weeds. Is that a cross on her bosom? Did Presbyterians wear crosses? Is she Catharine's mother Nancy Fraser? But Nancy died in Renfrew in 1895! Is it Peter's mother? No, she died in Montreal in 1878! Or ... how old is this picture anyway?!

If the patriarch is John McFadyen, his wife Isabella Campbell is another who left no photographic traces. I am throwing McFadyen scenarios in to demonstrate an (almost) open mind but am about to abandon it. Even as I write, I am switching back and forth between family photos. The woman seated two places to the patriarch's left with the collar bow closely resembles Peter Dougall's daughter Annie Elizabeth Hemenway. Annie married in 1884.

I'm also thinking the two women flanking widow's weeds have a certain resemblance. Peter had four daughters. Are they and his wife the seated figures closest to him? My original dating theory may be way out of whack.

Well, if they are Dougalls, I can't find my grandfather William (1854-1934) based on his old age portrait. More vexation. Unless he's the handsome guy with the cheroot. Would you say the woman in front of him is wearing glasses? William's wife Jessie is the only ancestor I've seen who wore glasses in her portraits. They were married in 1894. Maybe my Dad's merely the proverbial twinkle in someone's eye.

Peter Dougall also had five sons. Certainly there are many spouses included here to confuse the issues of who's male family and who's an in-law. Not to forget the fun-loving spinsters and bachelors---I'm sure they are the ones who dared to smile and laugh on a sedate occasion. Peter and Catharine retired from their lifelong home in Renfrew, Ontario, to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1905. Either place could be the setting for the photograph. And probably much earlier than my previous guessing.

Such a unique treasure to have. If only I could sort it out. Have you run into a similar problem?  

08 January 2013

McFadyens Part 15: Black Sheep Hector

Large chunks in the life of this man--sibling of a direct ancestor--are still missing. Mysteries abound. For the lucky, newspapers provide clues or even fill some biographical holes. Newspaper items can remind us our ancestors were human and faulty just as we are. Perhaps we can relate to long-past transgressions and crimes because of the news we are immersed in today. Aside from the event itself, in some cases we might learn how the community responded, an insight to social sensibilities. Dealing with something a couple of generations ago, we have distance from the contemporary emotional consequences and pain.

Hector McFadyen was born 28 December 1869 in Provincetown, Massachusetts, the son of John McFadyen and his wife Isabella Campbell, both natives of Cape Breton.[1] Hector's parents had married in the same town in January of that year.[2] What were two Capers doing far south of their home province? The family story is that the couple had sailed to "the Boston States" to sell their boat and make a stake to buy land in Canada's Northwest. John planned to change his occupation from seafarer to farmer.

Hector was a child when they arrived in Oakbank, Manitoba (also known as Sunnyside, and later Springfield), where his father duly staked his homestead claim in 1874 to a quarter section (160 acres) of prairie land.[3] More pieces of property were acquired as the family grew. The oldest of ten children, Hector probably learned farming at an early age. He appears to be the single man, age 31, a sole head of household at Springfield in 1901, where he was farming not far from his parents.[4]

The next thing we know of Hector is his marriage on 6 August 1909 to Katherine Grace Polley, born in Ontario to New Hampshire natives Albert M. Polley and Flora Fuller.[5] In British Columbia! By this time Hector was almost forty years old. Whether he had moved to BC or was visiting or engaged in farm business, we simply don't know.

Grace's family provides a clue for the distant encounter. Her father Albert Polley was quite an entrepreneur in mail and passenger stage service to northern Ontario towns from his base in Goderich.
Goderich historical town square; destroyed by tornado, 2011. Photo
 But Albert's love of horses was paramount.[6] He bred and trained them in his stables and racetrack near the town and expanded to horse markets in Pennsylvania and British Columbia. Probably through his connections along the way---did his daughter travel with him?---Grace met a fellow horse lover called Hector McFadyen.

Hector has not yet been located in the 1911 census two years after his marriage. His wife Grace McFadden was then living with her parents on North Street in Goderich, Ontario.[7]

Our intermittent chronology now skips ahead to 1921 when widower Albert Polley died.[8] Grace inherited $986.00 from him while her single sister Charlotte was given the North Street house.[9] At about 11 p.m. on the last day of February 1923, smoke came pouring out of H. McFadyen's Grocery Store on the corner of North Street and the Square in Goderich.[10] (It seems Hector had relocated to his wife's home town and established a different kind of business.) Firemen were prompt and reported next day that losses were not heavy but the living quarters above the store, inhabited by Misses Elliott, were damaged. A short circuit in basement wiring was the suspected cause.

Hector McFadyen disappeared at the same time.  
A few days later, March 6th, this notice was inserted in a Winnipeg newspaper, appealing for information of his whereabouts.[11] He was described as a "railroad construction man" and thought to be in western Canada. To the point, the notice said his wife Grace was "ill and entirely without money and urges him to write to her." An address was given to contact Grace in Toledo, Ohio. Two of Hector's sisters in Winnipeg composed the notice, likely after being contacted by Grace or someone on her behalf.

A second newspaper notice with more desperate overtones was published on March 7th; apparently from Grace herself:
"Your wife is ill and absolutely without money, do not be afraid to write. I have legal advice the police cannot hold you for fire. My furniture is held for heat and light.Mrs Grace McFadyen, [address withheld], Toledo, Ohio."[12]

Oh, the questions! Was Hector to blame for the fire? I suppose he scooted out of Ontario on a train. Certainly the families were communicating between Ohio and Manitoba. But why was Grace living in Toledo? Had she and Hector actually lived together in Goderich for some time?

March 22nd: Grace died in Toledo at the home of her sister, Mrs. W.B. (Helen) Major.[13] Her remains were shipped to Goderich for burial with her parents in Maitland Cemetery; her name on the stone is Grace P. McFadyen.[14] The local death notice does not mention her husband. Ironically, on the day she died, the same newspaper published her petition to initiate bankruptcy proceedings.

Hector's life after 1923 is yet another blank, with only a few clues on his death record. He died 18 November 1944 in Kamloops, BC; the informant was a man who lived at the same residence.[15] Hector had lived there less than two months before his death. Described as "contractor," his former address was Haney, BC, a small place east of Vancouver on the CPR railway line. Typical of families dealing with a black sheep, the McFadyens generally suppressed speaking of him to younger generations and Hector's full story was lost.

The value of newspapers in family history research can never be overestimated. They can help develop the three-dimensional ancestor. Let's applaud all who digitize newspapers and those who make them searchable!

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

[1] Massachusetts Births, Vol. 214 (Provincetown), p. 18, birth male McFadden, 28 December 1869; as transcribed and sent to me by Cheryl McIntosh, 8 February 2006.
[2] Massachusetts Marriages, Vol. 17 (Provincetown), p. 15, McFadyen-Campbell marriage, 13 January 1869; as transcribed and sent to me by Cheryl McIntosh, 8 February 2006.
[3] Manitoba homestead grant no. 2353, NW Quarter, Section 15, Township 11, Range 5 East of the Principal Meridian, patent deed 3 May 1878. These grants can now be searched in Library and Archives Canada's (LAC) "Western Land Grants" database,
[4] "1901 Census of Canada," transcription, Automated Genealogy ( : accessed 23 February 2009): Manitoba, District 11, Selkirk, subdistrict Springfield, division K-2, p. 4, Hector McFadyen; citing LAC microfilm T-6435. Census indexing at the time on and was problematic for finding any of this family.
[5] "Vital Events - Marriages," database, British Columbia Archives ( : accessed 18 July 2009), Mcfadyen-Polley marriage, no. 1909-09-120737; citing BC Archives microfilm B11382.
[6] "Obituary - Polley," The Signal (Goderich, Ontario), 20 January 1921.
[7] "1911 Census of Canada," digital image, ( : accessed 18 July 2009), Ontario, District 83, Huron West, subdistrict 3, enumeration district 5, Town of Goderich, p. 29, Albert Polley household; citing LAC microfilm T-20378.
[8] "Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1934," digital image, ( : accessed 19 July 2009), Albert M. Polley, death registration no. 016382 (1921); citing Archives of Ontario (AO) microfilm MS 935.
[9] Huron County, Ontario, Surrogate Court file no. 8890, Albert M. Polley; AO microfilm MS 887 reel 800.
[10] The Huron Star (Goderich, Ontario), 1 March 1921.
[11] "Information Wanted of Hector McFadyen," Manitoba Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba), 6 March 1923.
[12] "Hector McFadyen," Winnipeg Free Press (Winnipeg, Manitoba), 7 March 1923.
[13] "Ohio Deaths, 1908-1953," database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 24 February 2009), Grace McFadyen 1923. Interestingly--unhappily--the entry cannot currently be found.
[14] "Obituary - McFayden," The Goderich Star, 29 March 1923.
[15] Hector McFadyen, British Columbia death registration no. 1944-09-651920; BC Archives microfilm B13184.