Monday, November 17, 2008

Solving Genealogy Mysteries

Life is full of mysteries. As you delve more deeply into your family's history you are destined to encounter quite a few of them, some more easily solved than others. You are sure to come across an ancestor who refuses to reveal the details of his or her existence, while the lives of others magically unfold witheach new record you search. The process can be frustrating at times, but extremely joyful too. Solving a mystery depends upon the clues you have and the records available to search. It requires patience, persistence, a lot of hard work, and a bit of luck. Not all mysteries can be solved.

The same applies to people who are not family members but whose names you encounter in family letters, journals, and diaries. These mysterious people can capture your imagination just as easily as your own family members do. Wouldn't it be interesting to solve the mysteries and forward the details to their descendants? Although it took me a few years, I recently was able to do just that.

When I became interested in family history early in 1992, my father gave me a letter written in 1919 by his mother, Grace CLARK. In April 1919 at Sheffield, England, Grace GIBSON married Hugh McKenzie CLARK. The couple was traveling to Storthoaks, Saskatchewan, Canada, where Hugh farmed with his parents. Grace was a war bride of the First World War. The letter to her parents back home in Sheffield, England was written in pencil on both sides of 5 x 8-inch paper, while she traveled to Canada with her husband, a returning Canadian soldier, on board the Canadian Pacific Railway troop ship, R.M.S MELITA. The letter is more than 68 pages long and in it she talks about events and the people she met while on the ship.

One event she wrote about that caught my attention right away was the burial at sea of an infant who was only three months old. My grandmother never mentioned the family by name but she explained that the parents were at the burial and that it was much sadder because the father, an officer on board, was blind. Over the years I wondered whether I would be able to find out who the family was and could I make contact with descendants to give them this poignant piece of their family history.

However, before I could solve this mystery, I had to find out exactly when my grandmother made the journey to Canada. After perusing family documents including the letter and grandmother's autograph book, I was able to narrow down the dates to between 15 September and 15 October 1919. The Canadian passenger lists for autumn 1919 were not available to search at that time, so in May 1997 I wrote to Citizenship and Immigration Canada requesting the date of immigration for my grandmother. I received a reply two months later. They were able to provide me with the information I wished for: my grandmother arrived at Quebec City, Canada on 25 September 1919. They also advised that the ship set sail from Liverpool, England on 17 September 1919.

In 1998, when additional passenger list records were released for public access by the Canadian government, I was able to search the passenger lists for myself. The records revealed that the name of the baby who died at sea was John D. HITCHON. His parents were Wilton Wallace and Edna HITCHON of Brantford,Ontario, Canada (LAC Microfilm # T-14702).

Two years later, I submitted a query that was published in the August 2000 edition of FAMILIES, the journal of the Ontario Genealogical Society. I received no response to my query until 5 November 2001, more than a year later. The e-mail was from a distant relative of the family from Scotland. He asked how I was related to the branch in Ontario. I responded by explaining about the information I had and that I wished to pass it on to the family.

I have since made contact with his family. I was thrilled to be able to share this information with them. I can only hope that by passing on the information I have about the death of this child, it will be treasured and passed on for future generations to remember him by.
Originally published in MISSING LINKS: A Magazine for Genealogists, Vol. 6, No. 49, 16 December 2001.

© Annette Fulford, 2008-2010

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