From Farmer to Family to Fallout. What Happened to Job Dowding?

I could tell you the story of a young man who spent his adolescence on a “factory farm” in Fifehead Magdalen alongside his older brother and sister in the Southern part of England.  He lived with his older cousins on this farm that housed his elderly relatives and learned the trade of dairy farming.  Between the years 1841 and 1851, he travelled with his older brother to Canada in search of a new and prosperous life.  Meeting and marrying his love in York (now Toronto), he travelled South-West with his young bride and her family to settle near Woodstock, Ontario.  He went back and forth between a farm there and his brother’s in Logan Township in Perth County over the course of the next several years. Upon the death of his wife after birthing their ninth child, this man adopted out his children amongst various members of his and his wife’s family presumably because he couldn’t afford to raise them.  He died in Woodstock jail in 1886 of general paralysis at the age of 58.  Place of burial is unknown and is presumed in the jail’s potters’ field.

That is the story I could tell.  It is an interesting one.  To me, however, the real story was in how I pieced it together.  It has taken me years, several connections and endless Ancestry.ca and Google searches, to bring this tale to life.  It was shrouded in mystery and still has several loose ends.  It is no way a finished story here’s what I have so far.

I introduce you to my great great great grandfather, Job.  He brought my Dowding lineage to Canada from England over a hundred years ago.  My earliest record of him is the 1841 English Census in Fifehead Magdalen. He is listed there at a “factory farm” at 13 with a Sarah Dowding, 20 and a John Dowding, 15.  There were other Dowdings too; a Thomas and Elizabeth both 70 and a younger Thomas of 40.  According to one of my valuable contacts, she explained that factory farms were used to house elderly parents and/or as training opportunities for younger relatives to learn about dairy farming.  She felt it was possible that Job was a cousin and was apprenticing as a farmer to learn the trade at the Factory Farm in Fifehead run by Thomas Dowding. This connection also mentioned that she found other documents that suggested Job had other siblings. These names included Charles, Jemima, William, Edwin James and Albert Charles.  Although I cannot prove undeniably that my Job fits 100% into this line, there are clues that suggest it’s a probability.

I’ve wrote in the past, about the Dowdings in my family tree.  I wrote about my great great grandma Dowding in Alice Stone – A Mystery and her husband in my October 2015 post for Crestleaf.com’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds challenge.  In both stories, I mentioned that for most of my youth, the extent of my extended family knowledge was limited.  I was told that my grandmother was an orphan and there wasn’t much to be found about my Dowding line.  With modern day technology of course, fact-finding about family history has become much easier, more convenient with much more available at our finger tips.  It also brought forth new connections.

Another connection reached out she said in her message: “Just when I thought there was nothing more to add to this family, I stumbled across your site on [ancestry.com]”. She has helped me with the Canadian end of Job’s journey.  This connection is a Danbrook descendant, which is a whole other collection of amazing tales in its own rite.  Elizabeth Danbrook, the wife of Job Dowding and my 3X great grandmother, was this person’s 3X great aunt (if I have my math correct).  Although she claimed that she didn’t have much information on the Dowding line, she had considerably more than me.  She gave details of a letter that she had from Danbrook descendent speaking of Job.  It described Job as a beautiful singer that fostered a love of music amongst his children.  It also mentioned that Job was a victim of St. Vitus Dance.  Also called Syndenham’s Chorea, it is characterized by jerky, uncontrollable movements of the facial muscles and limbs stemming from rheumatic fever.  The letter goes on to read: “Auntie [Elizabeth] died when Bertha was born, the home was broken up, he was not able to work any longer. He was a very hard worker and gave all his wages to Auntie, I don’t think he even knew the taste of liquor.”  

This connection also asked me if I knew how Job ended up in jail where he died.  This was shocking.  I had his death information but did not discover until that notification, that it was jail where his life ended.  When I went back over the record, there it was in a tiny box at the bottom, place of death: gaol.

My contact went on in her email to say her thoughts were perhaps the St. Vitas dance gave the impression of intoxication and was jailed for that.  She also had more information that when Job’s wife died, the 9 children were divided up amongst relatives and spread out across Southwestern Ontario.  Some lived with relatives of Elizabeth and some went to a Dowding in Perth.  Without much information about Job, I didn’t know if he had family that came from England with him.  In finding out this information, it would appear that a John Dowding was related, most likely a brother.  Some of Job’s children show up in censuses with John Dowding in 1881.

These 2 new connections made from information shared on Ancestry have opened up a door to new research and new possibilities.  I have new questions to answer – are there more family connections that come the Dowdings in Perth?  Why was Job Dowding put in jail, how did he die and where is he buried?  Where were all the children placed after Elizabeth’s death.  So much more to piece together.

 

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The Beginning of the Varnum’s in Canada: Crestleaf.com’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

Notes

Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.  “Barnum, Joseph Bradley, (1750/1751 – 1821).”  Accessed April 29, 2016.  http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/bodisplay.pl?index=V000074.

Brown Daily Herald, The.  “The Revolutionary War: Hosting rebellion by Drew Williams.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.  http://250.browndailyherald.com/the-revolutionary-war-hosting-rebellion/.

Brown University Office of the Curator.  “Varnum, James Mitchell (1748 – 1789).”  Accessed April 29, 2016.  http://library.brown.edu/cds/portraits/display.php?idno=93.

Ginger Genie Blog, The.  https://thegingergenie.com/12/14/28/cornish-comes-to-canada/.

Google Books.  “Crossing to Freedom by Elizabeth Wells Bardwell.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.  http://bit.ly/103u8kp.

Google Books.  “The Prominent Families of the United States of America by Arthur Meredyth Burke.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.  http://bit.ly/SAYTTz.

History.com.  “American Revolution History.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.  http://www.history.com/american-revolution/american-revolution-history.

History.com.  “King Philip’s War.”  Accessed April 30, 2016.  http://www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/king-philips-war.

United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada.  “Loyalist Directory: Benjamin Varnum.”  Accessed April 29, 2016.  http://uelac.org/Loyalist-Info/detail.php?letter=v&line=110.

 

Crestleaf.com’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

Crestleaf.com’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

 

Notes

  1.  Tara Browner, December 30, 2000 (5:00 a.m. GMT), comment on the original Seburn, “Niagara Area Family,”  Ancestry.com, on December 30, 2000, http://boards.ancestry.co.uk/localities.northam.canada.ontario.lincoln/125.300.301/mb.ashx
  2. Tim Seburn, email message, January 4, 2016.

Crestleaf.com’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.

 

Notes:

  1.  “The Downton Story,”  accessed Dec. 22, 2015, http://www.thedowntonstory.com/index.html.
  2. “PRESSEY FAMILY_DESCENDANTS OF PINEAS PRESSEY (1246) & RUTH BAILEY (1247),” accessed December 22, 2015,http://presseyfamily.tripod.com.
  3. “Port Talbot, Ontario,” accessed December 22, 2015,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_Talbot,_Ontario.

 

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds

Crestleaf.com’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: