The Beginning of the Varnum’s in Canada:’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: April

Mary Ann Varnum, Mary Ann Cornish

My brother-in-law asked if I knew anything about the Varnum branch of his and my husband’s family tree.  I knew that when Thomas Cornish  came from Cornwall, England, he married Mary Ann Varnum. On their gravestone, it indicates that Mary Ann was a “native of Quebec”.  That was the extent of my knowledge of the Varnum side of things.  He sent over some print-outs of family history and I glanced at them.  Of course, with my love of family and history connections, I took to the internet to research more.

American Flag, American Revolution, Patriots

When I ran a search on the name Varnum, there was a wealth of information about countless Varnums with significant contributions to American History.  George Varnum, my husband and brother-in-law’s 9 X great-grandfather, came from England around 1635, with his son Samuel.  They were early settlers of Ipswich and Dracut, Massachusetts.  Samuel’s son, Colonel Joseph Bradley Varnum, and himself, had involvement in King Philip’s War, a last effort of Native American’s to drive the British settlers out.

There was also another Joseph Bradley Varnum, Colonel Joseph’s grandson, who served in the Revolutionary War and later became a Senator and Speaker of the House.  And then there was General James Mitchell Varnum, Joseph’s older brother.  He was one of Brown University’s (then Rhode Island College) first graduates and practiced law.  Besides serving in the Revolutionary War he was a member of Continental Congress.  Joseph and James were 2nd cousins 7 X removed from my husband and brother-in-law.  The list of Varnums with a place in American history went on.  Many of them were influential Patriots during the American Revolution.  Which leads to the question, how did the Varnums end up in Canada to which Mary Ann would be a “native of Quebec”?

United Empire Loyalist

With significant sleuthing, I found a record for Benjamin Varnum on the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada’s (UELAC) website.  Going back to the family tree, Benjamin was a great-grandson of the Samuel Varnum that originally came with his father, George, from England.  In his biography on the UELAC site, it states: “[Benjamin] was a UEL [United Empire Loyalist] who was disowned by his family and expunged from its records”.  In other words, he was on the opposing side to most of his relations during the Revolution.  He was disowned and according to the UELAC, his American Verification of Death states he died in infancy.  Imagine a family going so far as to have another member completely removed from records.

Thomas and Mary Ann (Varnum) Cornish

Thomas and Mary Ann (Varnum) Cornish

Benjamin Varnum, who went against the grain of his prominent American kin, began the Varnum legacy in Canada when he moved to Sutton, Quebec in 1770.  He was grandfather to Mary Ann who married Thomas Cornish, and 5 X great-grandfather to my husband and his brother. Digging into the past to discover more about the Varnum family has only piqued my interest which will, no doubt, lead to further research.  The question that is resting foremost in my mind now is, why did Benjamin choose to be a Loyalist?  What is the story for his venture to Quebec and his descendants to head West to Upper Canada where Mary Ann met her husband.  And the family history search obsession continues…

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds


Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.  “Barnum, Joseph Bradley, (1750/1751 – 1821).”  Accessed April 29, 2016.

Brown Daily Herald, The.  “The Revolutionary War: Hosting rebellion by Drew Williams.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.

Brown University Office of the Curator.  “Varnum, James Mitchell (1748 – 1789).”  Accessed April 29, 2016.

Ginger Genie Blog, The.

Google Books.  “Crossing to Freedom by Elizabeth Wells Bardwell.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.

Google Books.  “The Prominent Families of the United States of America by Arthur Meredyth Burke.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.  “American Revolution History.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.  “King Philip’s War.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.

United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada.  “Loyalist Directory: Benjamin Varnum.”  Accessed April 29, 2016.’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: March – Piecing Together the History of George Alexander Brown

George Alexander Brown, Brown Family of Woodstock, ONIsn’t it fascinating how sometimes you know so little about someone who you have to piece together a story on the bare minimum of details that you do find?  That is how it is for my great-grandfather George Alexander Brown on my Mom’s side.  The only thing I knew about him, other than he was a slight man with a thick dark moustache, was that he was supposedly killed in front of the Snow Countess in Woodstock, Ontario while riding his bike when he was struck by a car.   I wasn’t sure about that – the story seemed a bit sensational to me but that was all I had.

Woodstock, Snow Countess, Dairy Capital

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, obtaining the subscription to a genealogical site was such a fantastic investment for me.  All the documents and connections helped to fill in so many blanks.  When I plugged George Alexander Brown into the database, I was finally able to get some dates.  He was born in 1874 and died in 1937.  He was 62 when he died.  That meant that my grandmother was 17 when he died, a young girl.   This also meant that he died long before my mother was born.   Because I was only 8 when my grandmother died, I was too young to form the questions that I now wish I could have asked her about her father.

I was able to see census records that showed my great-grandfather was born in England and spent part of his young life in Sevenoaks, Kent.  He came to Canada approximately in 1877 with his father, Joseph Alexander Brown, mother, Jane Elizabeth Beaumont and his 7 brothers and sisters.  They settled in Woodstock, Ontario.  I know from the English censuses that Joseph was a shoemaker but there isn’t much else that I’ve found about George’s parents.

In an old Woodstock directory document from 1893, I managed to find George listed with his brother James living at 38 Hincks Street.  According to the directory, they both worked at D.K. Karn pianos.  They were also living with their mother, Jane but she was listed as a widow.  Two of the sisters were listed as well, but as “domestics” with Woodstock College.  The little I was piecing together of my family was also opening up a treasure trove full of local history.  D. W. Karn Pianos were one of the largest and most prestigious piano companies in the world.  Woodstock College also had a rich history that was the humble beginnings of the now McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

George Alexander Brown, Brown Family History, Woodstock Ontario

George’s marriage to my great-grandmother, Mary Louise Dowding, was evident on the marriage certificate where he was listed as a “machine-hand”.  My guess was that this was his position with D. W. Karn Pianos.  They were married in Woodstock.  The latest document that I had to review was George’s death notice.   He died on September 29, 1937.  On the far right side of the document it stated the cause of death: “Cerebral haemorrhage due to injury of the brain due to thrown off bicycle by motor car”.  It gave me a sense of satisfaction to read that.  It was as though I needed to see it in writing in order to bring belief and closure to the story that my great-grandfather did die in a bicycle accident.  The last thing to verify is if it truly did happen in front of the Snow Countess.  Stay tuned for updates as I continue the quest to learn more about George Alexander Brown.

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: January

The Legend of the Shipwrecked Baby

Legend of the Shipwrecked Baby, Seburn Family History, Niagara History

Legend has it that the Seburn name in my family, originated several generations ago when a small child was found as the only survivor of a raided Loyalist camp during the early part of the American Revolution.  Because the child was too young to identify himself and was found close to the ocean, he was given the name “Sea born” to indicate “Born of the Sea” with unknown lineage.  That name, according to legend, morphed into Seburn, which is the name more commonly heard among today’s Seburn generations.

When I heard this story as a young teenager, I was fascinated.  At that point in my life, my family history didn’t have much essence so this story injected some drama into my otherwise, dull past.  I held on to the story for years, hoping that someday I would have time and resources to explore its origins.

With the development of the internet, I began to research my “Sea-born” story to see if there might be any truth to this tale.   To my amazement, an identity in cyber-world reached out and indicated a similar story in her “Seburn” past.  Tara Browner, who I now know as a 4th cousin, published a post on a genealogy message board, suggesting she had Seburn lineage which included a Stephen Seburn who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck or Indian attack.  I immediately responded to the post for I couldn’t believe that there was another person, from another side of the continent, reporting the same story I heard as a teenager.  As luck would have it, Tara was planning a trip up my way for genealogical research and I arranged to meet her.

Tara Browner, Seburn Family History, Niagara History, Legend of the Shipwrecked Baby

Tara Browner

Since she was coming to Southwestern Ontario, I offered to drive if she would share what she knew about the Seburn line.  She was a wealth of information.  She brought pictures, showed me grave sites and she passed along stories of the war and property and introduced me to Tim Seburn, a 5th cousin 1 time removed.  He also knew the legend of the shipwrecked baby.

We all discussed “The Legend” and each had our own spin on it.  There was my version, of course and there was Tara’s version of a French/Acadian boy who was “somehow left behind during the expulsions in the 1750s and adopted by a British soldier”.  Tim’s rendition was that Stephen, or perhaps an earlier Seburn , was an unidentified babe from a lost Dutch ship and later adopted by an English family in Kent. Whichever story you chose to explore, the bottom line was that there was a child  who was an orphan around the time of the American Revolution and who grew up with the name Seaborne or Seburn and is the beginning of Seburn lineage in the Niagara region and beyond.

Tim Seburn, Seburn Family History, Niagara History, Legend of the Shipwrecked Baby

Tim Seburn

And it doesn’t end there.  Several years passed since then.  I had to put family research on hold as I completed more education, married, had a family and established a career.  I fell out of touch with Tara and Tim and my new-found adventurous history, until recently.  Rekindling my love of genealogy, I thought about my long-lost distant relatives and wondered if they might be on Facebook and they were! Reconnected again, Tara directed me to Tim and he mentioned there could be more to the Seburn legend than we thought and that he’d keep me posted.

Of course there was more to the story.  On January 4th, 2016, Tim sent an attachment with just the words, “Let me know what you think”.  When I opened the attachment, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  It was an image of the original adoption papers for Stephen Seburn and it was dated 1758. Talk about a Fascinating Family Find.

Seburn Family History, Stephen Seburn, Niagara History

Original Apprenticeship papers for Stephen Seburn

I was curious how Tim came about finding this document.  In an email he sent to me he wrote:

“…no question that this is the original document Stephen brought with him to Canada. It was in a box of stuff that was in the original homestead on Beechwood Rd, and was taken to BC by … the last owner of the homestead. It took me 5 years to track him down. His mother’s transcript of the document was found in … files at the Mayholme Foundation in 2011, so, even if his mother didn’t possess the document, I knew she had certainly one time saw it. When I finally got [the gentleman] on the phone he assured me he had a lot of stuff, but not the adoption document. But he was curious enough to open his mother’s boxes which had remained sealed for decades, and there it was!”

Tim indicated that:  “I now anticipate that the Seburn legend was a lie told to a little boy to create the impression that his ‘adopters’ were wonderful to have taken young Stephen in”.   Were they indeed wonderful for taking him in?  We may never know.  What we do know, is that Stephen was an orphan, he came to Canada and has left a legacy and a lineage that is very much entrenched in our family history.

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds



  1.  Tara Browner, December 30, 2000 (5:00 a.m. GMT), comment on the original Seburn, “Niagara Area Family,”, on December 30, 2000,
  2. Tim Seburn, email message, January 4, 2016.’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: December 2015

From Downton to CanadaDownton, Wiltshire, Pressey

My family is descended from Downton.  Impressive isn’t it?  When I hear “Downton”, of course, I immediately think Downton Abbey.  Being a fan of the television series, I conjure up images of large estates, beautiful gowns, tea and servants.  Exciting right?  Digging deeper, it didn’t take long to learn that this illusion was far from the truth.  In fact, it is more ironic than anything, for the family I am speaking of, were paupers.

Pressey, Ella May Pressey, Noels, Ella May Pressey

Ella May (Pressey) Noels

This family is the Pressey’s.  My great-grandmother on my father’s side was Ella May Pressey.   Her great-grandfather, George came from Downton, Wiltshire, England.  Times were grim in Downton during his life.  There was an agricultural depression during the 1830’s and many were out of work.  According to a fascinating find I discovered on the internet:  The Downton Story, it explained that the answer to this overwhelming poverty in the Wiltshire parish of Downton,  was to send its poor to Canada.  John Pracey (Pressey – George’s brother) and his wife and family, were amongst the first group of Downton folk to head over the Atlantic ocean, on the ship the Louisa, to Quebec, Canada.  From there, they made their way down the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes and eventually landed at Port Talbot, south of London, Ontario; a community that was once at the centre of a booming new world settlement.  Words of favour were passed back to Downton and more enthusiastic villagers set sail for the new, and better, world.

Port Burwell, Talbot Settlement, Pressey,

Port Burwell, Ontario Today

The next group to arrive included George,my 4th great-grandfather, his wife, Mary and 5 children: Henry, Phineas, Frederick, Ann and George.  They started their life in Canada at Port Burwell, Ontario as one of the first settlers to the area on what was part of the Talbot Settlement.  To this day, many descendants of John and George Pressey still live in the area of Port Burwell having established a new history for the family name and a new history for this land we call Canada.



  1.  “The Downton Story,”  accessed Dec. 22, 2015,
  2. “PRESSEY FAMILY_DESCENDANTS OF PINEAS PRESSEY (1246) & RUTH BAILEY (1247),” accessed December 22, 2015,
  3. “Port Talbot, Ontario,” accessed December 22, 2015,,_Ontario.


12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: November

Remembering Roy Mason, Stoker, HMCS Woodstock, World War II

Roy Mason, Royal Canadian Navy, WWII


My mother called Sunday and said “You won’t believe what I found”.  I love statements like that.  Intrigued, I headed over to her place and was thrilled to see an old scrapbook of my grandmother’s; one I had never seen before.  Even more intriguing, my mother had never seen it before either.  And the icing on the cake was that the scrapbook contained articles and papers about WWII, one in particular was about my grandfather and his involvement in the Navy during the war.   The synchronicity that she would find this 3 days before Remembrance Day was remarkable.

My grandfather passed away when I was 13.  I can vaguely remember him talking about places he had seen during the war when he and I were watching the Royal Wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles.  Other than that, I had little interest as a young girl, in World War II.  His stories were unheard by me at that time.  What I wouldn’t give now, to go back and hang off of every story he wanted to tell.  Similarly, my mother knew little of his undertakings in the war.  We took it for granted that these stories would be at our disposal when we were ready to ask questions but then the opportunity was lost when Grandpa passed.  And now … now Mom found this scrapbook.  It was in poor condition but the article was there in plain sight.  A story for me to “hang off of”.  It follows:


Roy Mason, Stoker, HMCS WoodstockRoy Mason, Stoker, HMCS Woodstock



Although it is brief, I now have new research initiatives.  I want to explore where Gibraltar is and it’s connection to the WWII; investigate the sinking of the HMCS Louisburg; find out who were other sailors aboard the HMCS Woodstock from across Canada.  I feel like I’m just starting to get to know my grandfather and it’s been almost 30 years since his death.  Oh to be able to talk with him now.  I could tell him how much I appreciate all that he, and all other veterans and soldiers, have sacrificed.  Remembering you today Grandpa…

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds

Should you Subscribe to a Genealogy Resource?

Have you been considering a subscription on an online genealogy resource but aren’t sure if it’s going to be worth it?  Check out my first vlog post to get some insight into why it might be a great idea:’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: October

John Dowding, The Dowding Family
When I was 8, my parent’s and Grandma (my mom’s mom) took me on a trip to Ohio to meet relatives of my grandmother’s, her 1st cousin, Dick, and his wife, Millie. I fell in love with them both instantly. They were friendly and hospitable and I felt they treated me like a grown up so they were definitely all right in my book. Their last name was Dowding. That was when I remember Dowding solidifying in my mind as a branch to my family tree.

Richard Dowding, Mildred Dowding

Upon asking for more information on that family as I grew older, there wasn’t much to gain. My grandmother’s “Grandma Dowding” was an orphan and there was never any talk of her husband or a “Grandpa Dowding”. Many years of my life were spent with the understanding that my family tree would always be limited because no one had information beyond the orphaned “Grandma Dowding” and that seem to include her husband as well (I wrote about her last September in a post entitled “Alice Stone – Mystery“).  My involvement and passion in family research came to the attention of a distant cousin of mine.  She contacted me and offered to share information on the Dowding family.  What she gave me was “fascinating” as all new genealogical information is to me.  There was a new picture of Grandma Dowding with her husband, John James Dowding, and their two children, Richard and Mary Dowding.  Along with the picture was a notation that read: “Little is known of John Dowding, he was a member of Christian Science Church.  He was in poor health and developed an ailment that was treatable but because of his religion would not see a doctor, and consequently John succumbed to his ailment at the age of 40, leaving Elizabeth to raise their children.”


John and Elizabeth Dowding (nee Stone) with Richard and Mary

John Dowding, John James Dowding, Woodstock, ON

After plugging this information into my online genealogy database, it wasn’t long before a death certificate was produced.  This document revealed that John James Dowding died of pneumonia.  Sadly, he was only 40 years of age.  Learning that he was a part of the Christian Science Church was absolute new information to me and most members of my family.  Exploring further, it is a faith that embraces healing through spirituality and prayer over medicine.  It was a new concept in the time of John Dowding and I’m trying to find out how he may have learned about it and where he may have attended gatherings.  That may provide new insight to how my Dowding ancestors may have lived.  There is no wonder anymore why there was so little known about Great Grandpa Dowding.  He wasn’t around long for his children or his grandchildren to get to know him.  But at least I now have a picture and a story that may help to open a door to find out more about my Dowding line.

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds