Isn’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.
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’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.