29 July 2013

Girl With Cat

A recent visit to Saskatoon revealed a delightful family story. A sculpture by Arthur Price has pride of place in the entrance to the conservatory of the Mendel Art Gallery and Civic Conservatory.
Girl With Cat has been fascinating children for almost fifty years; (not the best) photo, BDM July 2013.  
Here's a better one:

Opened in 1964, the Mendel borrowed the sculpture for display the next year and it became very popular. Children especially were charmed with its life-size presence and hands-on appeal. But the cost to buy it was beyond the means of the young gallery. That's when my little cousin Caroline got involved. Even as a nine-year-old, she was quite familiar with visiting the new cultural centre. Girl With Cat enthralled her, reflecting a large portion of public opinion. With no fund-raising underway, she wrote a letter to the director, sending money she and her brother had saved toward the sculpture's purchase.

One dollar and nineteen cents.

Saskatoon's StarPhoenix recently did a story on this, "Childhood Gift Keeps on Giving." [Sorry, the printing is in blue pencil.]

Caroline's letter sparked a campaign in the city, mostly among children's organizations and activities. Thus the sculpture became a proud permanent acquisition in 1970. No telling what a determined little redhead can accomplish! Visitors are encouraged to stroke the cat and the girl's hair; little ones will even join her in the rocking chair.

Very sadly, Caroline died before her time in 2010. She was in the happiest years of her life, a career in elementary school counselling her great joy. Her husband dedicated a nearby bench in the conservatory to her.

It chokes me up every time I see this lovely photo of brother and sister in later life.

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

20 July 2013

Cemeteries Part 17: Silent Work

To the enlightened, cemeteries are heritage parks. Quiet places of beauty, a solitary enjoyment, or even a picnic en famille. We in North America have begun to appreciate their significance, the need for maintenance, and the uncovering of small, forgotten ones. Walking tours of older cemeteries are introducing the general public to historical treasures. Genealogists and family historians have an abiding interest, it goes without saying, in transcribing memorials. But time and weather (sometimes theft!) wreak havoc on granite, marble, and other materials. And so groups of disparate people, not necessarily genealogy-oriented, have been formed for physical preservation efforts. This post is solely to herald their efforts and not the associated projects dealing with advocacy and legalities.

One related project that impresses me is a venture that could be a community model. The CK Cemeteries Preservation Project is an independent project that grew from concern over conditions in Chatham (Ontario) cemeteries, a concern echoed everywhere in this province. Cemetery owners, often municipal entities, can only allot so much time and funds (not enough, heritage-minded folk would agree) for maintenance.
CKC volunteers hard at work; photograph courtesy of Trish Nigh
The CKC group not only unearths dozens of sunken or buried grave markers, they are repairing vandalized stones, photographing their work, and learning history at the same time. A ground penetrating radar machine assists with locating fallen, covered stones. Armed with their “little shovels,” a great deal of back-breaking work is involved, digging and lifting, to re-position fallen or broken stones. One stone and monument at a time. With a great deal of respect for the interred and the families they represent. The volunteers find quiet satisfaction in the learning process, both physical and historical.

Owner of the Chatham-Kent Cemeteries website and also one of the first original volunteers, John Skakel notes the difference between the terms preservation and restoration, concluding firmly, " ... we truly are doing work that brings the grounds as a whole closer to what they looked like originally and not just the stones." Since their program has been carefully refined over a long period, he adds they are more than willing to share advice when contacted. The Chatham-Kent Council has recognized their quietly heroic work. Occasional donations assist with necessary materials and tools.
Similar undertakings happen in many corners of the world, some obscure and some well-known. Friends of Highgate Cemetery Trust in London, UK, is a charity that rescued from neglect and vandalism one of those iconic places where famous figures are memorialized. Well-organized volunteers give training on different facets of maintenance; working parties extend to landscape cleanup and gardening. 

Then there are unsung loners. One man in the Ottawa Valley on his own tackled a small burial ground all but obliterated by thick overgrowth, poison ivy, and trees with stubborn roots; biting insects are another obstacle. It only takes a generation or two of family leaving the area for a cemetery plot or small burial ground to succumb to nature. He didn't stop at the restoration; he researched the deceased to bring their lives to light. There are more of these stories of search and rescue than you might think; one can find unexpected examples, probably not far from your own home.

Here, from South Carolina, is but one of a multitude of sources that feature workshops on doing it right. How about that lengthy list of items required for an inclusive understanding?! It's also necessary to know the laws on several levels that can affect proposed projects. Some groups focus on particular perspectives, such as The Association for GravestoneStudies that concentrates on historical artistry and symbology. 

These small armies represent people from every walk of life who band together in hard work and frequent bonhomie. Seems like unconditional love to me. I salute volunteers everywhere who serve their communities and, in so doing, benefit family historians.

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

14 July 2013

John Fraser: Still Missing

By far the most popular post I ever made was “John Fraser, Missing in Action.” It was Part 5 in an ongoing (apparently endless) series about my various Fraser families.

That was over four years ago.

Let me point out, my John Fraser is STILL missing in action.
You would not know from the two comments on site that the post probably has more hits than all my posts combined. The attraction mystifies me. It must be the phrase missing in action that does it. Are people searching for a contemporary family member? Do they expect it’s about a military man? Identifying a missing soldier/sailor/airman? A combatant lost in the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of the Gulf War, the mountains of Afghanistan?  

How disappointed are those people when they find it’s about genealogy? A man born two hundred years ago. Not only that, I sure as heck didn’t know much about John Fraser the blacksmith four years ago and still don’t!  

I fear I have let a lot of folks down. On the other hand, who is to say the odd person who landed here (with other expectations) went away to or FamilySearch or another vast database, to become smitten with the family history love bug?

Possibly MY John Fraser is hidden among thousands of faceless John Frasers featured there (or not) but none of them will tell me why he disappeared from wife and family in Quebec ca.1840.
~ Being a subtle reflection on the limitations of online name indexes and databases: the mere surface of a sea that runs deep and unpredictable without the proper navigation skills ~  
What I have done in the interim is satisfactorily find two of his four children (apart from his daughter Catherine, my direct ancestor), Duncan and Eliza. More on Eliza here. The third and last is a son called—wouldn’t you know it—John Fraser (born 1835). Another no-show.

Not to mention the father-in-law of the desaparecido John Fraser: being another John Fraser, farmer at Rivière Rouge, Argenteuil, Quebec. Suspicions are that a family farm burial ground became overgrown and forgotten. Suspicions are not evidence.  

At times I feel doomed to wander the centuries, crying for the spectres of John Fraser(s). 

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

08 July 2013

Frasers Part 21: Eliza(beth) born 1839

The instincts were right ... that the missing younger siblings of my ancestor Catherine (Fraser) Dougall (1833-1914) might have followed her from Argenteuil County, Quebec to Renfrew County, Ontario is working out. It's not just instincts, of course. One develops a theory, hypothesis, when ancestors disappear from one place. It takes a combination of geography, history, and social contexts to recreate a cold trail, if there is a trail at all.
Not that easy to find a map that extends from Montreal all the way west; this one from Champlain Local Heath Information Network almost does the job.
Although Catherine married her husband Peter Dougall in the same St. Andrews East (St André Est, Quebec) Presbyterian Church where she'd been baptized, his blacksmithing occupation soon took them across the Ottawa River to Vankleek Hill, Ontario. From there, they had moved to the town of Renfrew by 1861 and were well-documented all the way to their twentieth-century retirement and deaths in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

But for years Catherine's siblings rested in limbo (where were all my potential Fraser cousins?!) The sister and brothers were John born 25 January 1835; Duncan born 10 November 1836; and Eliza(beth) born 4 February1839.[1] Their parents were John Fraser and Nancy (Ann) Fraser ... both were Frasers.

Recent developments have been the discovery of a Duncan Fraser who died in May 1861 in Beckwith Township, Lanark County.[2] His age on the gravestone was spot on. The location more or less jibes with an Ottawa River Valley migration pattern. He was in the Beckwith census in 1861 with a wife and no children;[3] his marriage record has not yet been found.

Even more interesting was an Elizabeth Fraser who married Alexander Gordon of Pakenham Township, Lanark County, 30 October 1860.[4] But wouldn't you know it: census information about the Gordons had conflicting information about Elizabeth's age and place of birth. It was questionable if the "John and Ann" parents on her marriage record were MY John and Ann/Nancy Fraser.

NOW I can feel confident that Elizabeth (Fraser) Gordon is the missing sister. After searching for her death registration and a potential newspaper notice, the best find was this:[5]
 Sister of Mrs. P. Dougall of this place. Hallelujah! ... with one small niggle that the notice is not from the newspaper in her place of residence—the town of Pembroke. Despite the fine search service of the Pembroke Public Library, the Pembroke Observer did not (oddly?) contain a death notice or obituary. But the family had previously lived in Pakenham Township for between twenty and thirty years till the move upriver to Pembroke in Renfrew County.[6]

Elizabeth's age in the newspaper and her death registration is a few years shy of her actual birth year.[7] The cemetery stone says the same thing.[8] But the February part is right ... I'm willing to give the rather common feminine mystique (age reduction) its due. Elizabeth Fraser Gordon and her husband are buried in Calvin United Church Cemetery, Pembroke. Many thanks to The Canadian Gravemarker Gallery for its awesome website and intrepid volunteers.

Identifying Elizabeth, of longtime Pakenham residence, somewhat bolsters the argument that the Duncan of nearby Beckwith was also her (and my Catherine's) brother―hard to say what level of probability this reaches. Alas, vital stats abstracts from Perth Courier, premier newspaper of Lanark County, were silent about both their deaths.[9]

The remaining sibling, brother John Fraser, is still missing in action like his father John Fraser: two needles in a haystack. Still, the pool of research prospects has not dried up yet.

[1] St Andrews East, Quebec, Presbyterian Church baptisms; correspondence from incumbent W. Harold Reid to author, 23 September 1970.
[2] St Fillan's Cemetery (Beckwith Township, Lanark County), digital photograph, The Canadian Gravemarker Gallery ( : accessed 10 September 2011); Duncan Fraser stone.
[3] "1861 Census of Canada," Canada West, Lanark County, ED 24, Beckwith Township, p. 16, stamped p. 45, Duncan Fraser; digital image, ( : accessed 10 September 2011), citing Library and Archives Canada (LAC) microfilm C-1042.
[4] Marriage Registers of Ontario, 1858-1869, Renfrew County, p. 26, Gordon-Fraser marriage; Archives of Ontario microfilm MS 248 reel 14.
[5] Renfrew Mercury (Town of Renfrew, Ontario), 9 October 1891.
[6] Alexander Gordon household, digital images, ( : accessed September 2012-March 2013):
"1861 Census of Canada," Canada West, Lanark County, ED 21, Pakenham Township, p.7; citing LAC microfilm C-1042.
"1871 Census of Canada," Ontario, District 80, North Lanark, subdivision 2, Pakenham, division 2, pp. 13-14; citing LAC microfilm C-10019.
"1881 Census of Canada," Ontario, District 114, North Renfrew, Town of Pembroke, p. 78; citing LAC microfilm C-13234.
"1891 Census of Canada," Ontario, District 113, Renfrew North, subdivision D, Town of Pembroke, p. 121; citing LAC microfilm T-6365.
[7] "Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938 ...," digital image, ( : accessed 23 March 2013), Elizabeth Gordon, registration no. 014427 (Renfrew County, 1891).
[8] Calvin United Church Cemetery (Pembroke, Renfrew County), digital photograph, The Canadian Gravemarker Gallery ( : accessed 19 September 2012); Alexander Gordon stone.
[9] "Newspaper Clippings, Spencer - Perth Courier Obituaries," Lanark County GenWeb ( : accessed 23 March 2013).

© 2013 Brenda Dougall Merriman

03 July 2013

Wordless Wednesday

Ai Weiwei is coming