23 September 2014

Seeking GORDONs

It's worth a try. Conventional genealogical wisdom (or plain general family wisdom?) says women are usually the "keepers" of family tradition, stories, souvenirs, photographs, heirlooms, and whatnot. Convention has proven true in many instances of my own families.

I've posted several times about my missing John Fraser the blacksmith; my lack of cousins has been a yawning black hole. The blacksmith had just four children. Aside from my direct ancestor, probably only one other has descendants who could hold potential keys. Maybe among them is the keeper of my missing stories.

The younger sister of my great-grandmother Catherine, Elizabeth (Eliza) Fraser married Alexander Gordon in Renfrew, Ontario on 30 October 1860.[1] Alexander was a lumber merchant in Pakenham Township, Lanark County, where the family lived in the 1861 and 1871 censuses. By 1881 they had moved slightly north to the town of Pembroke in Renfrew County and there they spent the rest of their days. Eliza died in 1891[2] but Alexander outlived her by many years. Both are buried in Calvin United Church and First Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Pembroke.[3]

From Pembroke Observer 1 November 1916:

Gleaned from Alexander's obituary, the cemetery stones, census returns, and some superficial marriage searches, their children were:

i. ISABELLA M. GORDON born ca.1862, married at Pembroke 22 September 1886 Robert Booth, lumber merchant of Ottawa.[4]
ii. ANNIE FRASER GORDON born 1863, “at home” in 1916, died in 1933.
iii. ELIZABETH GORDON born ca.1864, “at home” in 1916.
iv. GEORGE GORDON born ca.1865 was a Canadian Senator from 1912 to 1942.[5] He married Alice Emma Parry in Dunnville, Ontario on 30 August 1894.[6] His North Bay home is heritage-designated; after being sold in 1985, his grandson Gordon Taylor donated many artifacts to the North Bay Museum.  
v. ROBERT W. GORDON born 19 April 1868, died 30 September 1911, buried in Pembroke;[7] married Jane R. Sparling 19 June 1895 in Pembroke.[8]
vi. ALEXANDER GORDON born May 1870 (1871 census).
vii. PETER GORDON born ca.1873; John Peter Gordon, civil engineer of Le Pas, married Mary Agnes Barr at Pembroke on 12 November 1913.[9]
viii. JAMES GORDON born ca.1875, perhaps the “ J.B.” of Toronto, overseas in 1916.
ix. KATE LILLIAN GORDON born ca.1879, married Douglas W. Gray, a physician in Kingston, on 20 April 1905.[10]

Now, wouldn't you think there would be a family historian among that crew?

If you recognize any of these families please run, don't walk, to your nearest computer and email me, brendadougallmerriman at

[1] “Ontario, Canada Marriages, 1801-1928,” database, ( : accessed 17 September 2011), Gordon-Fraser marriage (1860); citing Archives of Ontario microfilm MS 248 reel 14.
[2] “Ontario, Canada Deaths 1869-1938,” digital image, ( : accessed 17 September 2011), Elizabeth Gordon, no. 014427 (1891); Archives of Ontario, MS 935.
[3] Canadian Gravemarker Gallery, digital image ( : accessed 30 September 2011), Eastern Ontario, Renfrew County, Pembroke and Satellite Communities, Calvin United Church and First Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Alexander Gordon family gravestones.
[4] “Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928,” digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 21 August 2014), Booth-Gordon, no. 010363 (1886); citing AO, MS 932.
[5] “Historical Buildings,” North Bay ( : accessed 21 August 2014).
[6] “Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928,” digital image, ( : accessed 22 August 2014), Gordon-Parry, no. 001697 (1894); citing AO, MS 932.
[7] Canadian Gravemarker Gallery, digital image ( : accessed 30 September 2011), Eastern Ontario, Renfrew County, Pembroke and Satellite Communities, Calvin United Church and First Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Robert W. Gordon gravestone.
[8] “Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928,” digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 22 September 2014), Gordon-Sparling, no. 010817 (1895); citing AO, MS 932.
[9] “Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928,” digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 21 August 2014), Gordon-Barr, no. 013289 (1913); citing AO, MS 932.
[10] “Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928,” digital image, Ancestry ( : accessed 21 August 2014), Gray-Gordon, no. n/a (1905); citing AO, MS 932. The registrations at this time stretched across two pages; the second page of the folio was not filmed.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

18 September 2014

Je suis [presque] prest

First draft of my FRASER family history is almost ready for an editing round ... that semi-satisfied feeling when you've drawn a line and said no more flailing around on the unsolved bits and write down what you know. We are not talking opus magnum here: a modest couple hundred pages max. Editing can be a pleasurable experience as you try to stand back and examine whether you actually said what you meant to say.  

But editing is an onerous procedure when you work with a "camera ready" manuscript for print on demand. Adding a paragraph or a new sentence (sometimes even a word!) can throw the whole works out of kilter. Ditto for changing or reducing text. Each photograph or an illustration could need minor or major adjusting to keep its placement relevant to what it describes.

Now I find I must add a paragraph of specific caution about something we in the genealogy world know, but my family very likely does not. A paragraph to acknowledge and warn that "family trees" online ― that I rarely search ― can have serious flaws. And there you have the reason that I seldom search them. The corollary is that my family and descendants may not trust what a batty old lady has to say, preferring the graphic ease of online offerings.

As luck would have it, this week in an idle moment I threw care to the winds and entered a search engine. Lo and behold. Two contributors have conflated three or four Quebec JOHN FRASERs into one man. It's quite a stupendous achievement, especially with regard to the man born in 1776 who had a granddaughter born the same year. Two of the men are recognizably my John Frasers and one is likely a downriver (Saint Lawrence) stray from the 78th (Fraser) Highlanders. They have sourced a valid marriage, no question, but then turned the Argenteuil farmer into his son-in-law the blacksmith, awarded him three wives, and gave him a mega-passel of French-Canadian grandchildren. Both have given my female ancestor the spurious middle name of Marie.

I can't tell which, but one contributor probably followed the other's lead. Fellow bloggers and other genealogists regularly locate similar misappropriations and misattributions. It could be a full time job to keep up. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that the errors haven't been compounded in even more trees.

However. Deep breath. One of the "trees" has given me two pieces of new (but let's say third-hand) information. First is the name of a birthplace for this hybrid John Fraser. The other is the alleged marriage of a John Fraser to an Ann McDonell; while it's very much out of place, if the record exists, it could be useful in eliminating other John Frasers.
Clan Fraser of Lovat hangouts, from the 16th century;
Learning the parish of Scottish origin for my Inverness-shire farmer John Fraser has been the canyon wall I beat my head on. While I've been slightly favouring Kiltarlity as the birthplace, I'm willing to give this "new" parish information a shot ― a foothold in the rock? ― once again hauling out the dog-eared OPR sheets from ScotlandsPeople and the equally tattered copies of Inverness-shire Monumental Inscriptions (Scottish Genealogy Society) for the parent-who-ought-to-be-named Alexander or James.

Meanwhile, peer wisdom calls for contacting the contributors with a thoughtfully composed message. Will the source of the parish info be revealed? Will it have creds? Hopefully we will exchange pleasantries and further information on all sides. Corrections will ensue and possibly mutual discoveries will unfold. Right?

Almost ready, mais oui. Another line to be drawn.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

08 September 2014

The Book of Me (16)

Yes ... been a while, I know. I was about to throw in the mythological towel until I heard from someone who actually follows this. Therefore I felt encouraged to collect a few of my aimless wits and plug away in pathetically disorganized fashion doing little some justice to a constructive meme. But, you know, scatter care to the winds and all that.

You do understand it can be boring and embarrassing to bafflegab* about one's self.

My missing prompts for The Book of Me range from numbers 43 to 52. They call for a massive burst of energy and lightning-like speed to play the catchup game. Or unobtrusively integrate as I would prefer to say.


I have indeed enjoyed childhood books, comic books, and hairstyles. Who could forget the archaic, beautifully illustrated Greek myths or Wonder Woman (in real life she morphed into Lynda Carter: so perfect) or "the Afro" (horrors, I may still have it, modified to about 1999). Yes, my ancestors did emigrate to this continent, as did all of ours, over whom I'm still labouring in several family histories. Luckily I've had more than my share of perfect days (and nights) out and a couple too many "first" homes. 

The occasional award came my way (runnerups don't count). Also I must report I cringe at the sound of my own voice on those old lecture tapes (remember cassettes?), not that I listen to any of them.

Yes, we actually had to wear those shorts for the sports curriculum.

That takes care of Prompts 43 to 49, and 51. ~~Doesn't it?~~ 

About the godparents (Prompt 50), I have an engraved christening mug so I must have 'em but can't truly report they ― whoever they be ― were monitoring the formative years of my education, religious or otherwise. Baptism certificate, where are you?

Plunging on to inherited items (Prompt 52), AH! - I could go to town here, pages of provenance for assorted treasures and mementos, but I already did that, ensuring my children will fall asleep reading a memo to my will and then argue over things like Dickensian street urchins. I will be dead and not have to listen.

But here is a favourite: a beloved chaise longue, pre- its fourth recovering, hauled and battered from one home to another, dog-chewed, cat-clawed, and all. It looks MUCH nicer now. Nature being what it is, the dog and cats have predeceased me.

My home town (Prompt 53) doesn't exist any more; gone, something like Brigadoon but not exactly. Merged into the ominous-sounding Thunder Bay. I guess we're used to it now, but damn, it's still The Lakehead.

The end. For a while.

* Credit where credit is due: I do believe the word was invented by Allan Fotheringham, one-time columnist for Maclean's and of other renown as a humourist.  

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.