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

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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

Bye-Bye To Bill’s Pizza of Tillsonburg

Bill's Pizza, Tillsonburg, Cheese PizzaAt the far south end of Tillsonburg, amongst the tumbleweeds where activity once abounded, lies a treasure hidden within a small hole-in-the-wall shop between the old “Royal Hotel” and the bowling alley.  A treasure now buried but to be remembered fondly.  A treasure of amazing pizza and people: Bill’s.

I just read The Tillsonburg News page that Bill’s Pizza in Tillsonburg is done. I’m in shock and disappointment.  Without question, the best pizza around as far as I’m concerned. So great, in fact, I had intended to write a blog post about it as one of the best things about living in Southwestern Ontario: convenient access to Bill’s pizza.  It was one of those “best kept secret” kind of places I would recommend to someone spending time in the area. Not just for the pizza but the staff and the joint also.

The crust was thin and homemade. According to End of an era: Saying goodbye to Bill’s Pizza posted in the Tillsonburg News, Bill’s went through 4 homemade batches a day. The sauce was just the right amount of spice and sweetness with a deep rich, red colour. My usual order was an extra large cheese pizza for my fussy family.  Once in a while I got a deluxe or a meat-lovers if the occasion warranted. The bacon was always real pieces of deli bacon, not bacon bits as many contemporary chain pizzas offer, and the deluxe would have fresh vegetables.  And the cheese, I can’t forget the cheese. There was always a tonne of cheese. So much, that when it melted there was a shimmery coating of grease that would sit on top. I know that may not sound appealing and your arteries may constrict just thinking about it but that was what made it a taste phenomenon. Before even taking a bite my taste buds would do sommersaults in anticipation of what was coming at them.

Bill’s Pizza quickly became the favourtie of my and my sister’s, out-of-town significant others and we have passed on the tradition to our children as well.  This was our go-to pizza growing up in Tillsonburg and a must-have when we are back visiting.  There is simply no other pizza like it.  It’s what I imagine a New York pizza to be like if I ever the opportunity to try it.

Bill’s has survived many years on their incredible reputation for great pizza and customer service.  It even managed to be one of the only businesses (that I’ve patronized) that never succumb to the use of electronic fees transfer.  If you wanted to purchase a pizza from Bill’s you had to do it “old-school”.  No debit or credit.  Cash only.  Luckily, the bowling alley next door was equipped with a bank machine or there would have been several nights of disappointment for me.  It was part of the charm of Bill’s.  It stayed constant and authentic through all the 43 years in business.

It was always a marvel as well, to see Irene or Don every time I would go in to pick up the pizza. I wondered if they ever took a holiday. According to the Tillsonburg news, I guess they didn’t. Obviously they loved what they did. They were always chatty and congenial. Every pizza passed over that counter was delivered with a smile and a thank you.  43 years of dedication and commitment to getting the best pizza out to generations of hungry patrons.  With retirement already underway, I wish them the best and happiest wishes for an amazing life from the other side of the counter.  And may they sense the biggest smile and sincere thank you from one grateful and satisfied customer.

Crestleaf.com’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: June

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds

I’m very intrigued and excited about Crestleaf.com’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds Challenge.  During my family research journey, I’ve discovered lots of great stories and uncovered interesting personas that I want to share with other genealogy enthusiasts.  The problem is that I don’t always get my stories together in a timely fashion due to a full-time workload, mommy to 2 busy boys and being an active community member.  This just might be the right challenge to motivate me to get these tales posted.

Norfolk County “Cowan’s”

For my first month challenge, I dug into my paternal grandmother’s lineage to discover The Cowans were amongst the first settlers to Norfolk County in Ontario.  I hadn’t spent much time on my father’s side of the genealogy tree because he had cousins who had done quite a bit of research.  Why reinvent the wheel and redo something that had already been done?  When I finally joined Ancestry.ca and had my eyes opened to the wealth of information available, I soon realized that my dad’s cousins had only revealed the tip of the ancestral ice berg.  In fact, I only had detailed information about my dad’s father’s line and nothing about my dad’s mother.  She was Marjory Cowan.  I grew up with several Cowan’s around where I am from.  Some of them related, some of them not, but not really knowing the Cowan connection.

Cowan Ancestry

Marjory (Cowan) Noels

Through my membership, I was able to go back through my father’s mother, Marjory (Cowan) Noels (1926 – 1993) her father, William Burton Cowan (1900 – 1962), to his father, William Henry Cowan (1873 – 1948) to his father, David Cowan (1843 – 1923) to his father John Cowan (1813 – 1894) and it ended there.  I was content with that for a time and jumped over to other branches for a while.  I came back to John Cowan and explored deeper.  Where was he from besides Norfolk County, Ontario?  The census records indicated he was “born in Scotland”.  I wanted to know where in Scotland.  I spent months searching Cowan records trying to find the right connection but nothing added up.  I was able to find a cemetery through the Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid that had a David Cowan buried in it.  There were John Cowan’s listed also, but they didn’t meet the criteria I needed for “my John”.  So, I loaded the van up one Sunday afternoon with my parents and my sons (who were 5 and 9 – not too enthused to be “cemetery-hopping” – ice cream helped) and sought to find the cemetery of this “David Cowan” that was buried there.  I was  hopeful of finding clues to other Cowan’s that might make the connection over the sea.  I did, in fact, find David’s grave and it was indeed my 3X great-grandfather.  Buried beside him was his wife Anna Eliza Garnet.  The stone was barely legible but he was buried in the North Middleton Baptist / Acacia Cemetery.  Their daughter, Mary Catherine Cowan, was buried with them also.  She died at 42 years of age of Typhoid fever according to her death certificate (Ancestry.ca).  Although the trip made for an adventurous afternoon, I did not learn anything new about David Cowan or his lineage.

Colquhoun, Cowan

Colquhoun Tartan – Cowan is a sept of

Back to the research I went.  I searched the internet again and again.  I found reference to a John C. Cowan on “The Long Point Settlers” site.  His life dates, however, 1747 – 1826, didn’t match the dates of my John Cowan.  The short description, however, on this site did indicate that he had 4 sons, James, John,William and Alexander.  This could possibly mean that the John listed here was who I was searching to connect but I couldn’t prove it without further cross referencing.  I did finally find a missing piece to this whole puzzle.  John, the son of John was not the John I was looking for.  There was a piece in between.  A 1841 document found on Ancestry.ca indicated a James Cowan from Scotland (John C. Cowan’s son) settled in Charlotteville Township in Norfolk County.   This James came from Scotland with a family.  His wife, Elizabeth and 3 children, Elizabeth, James and John.  Other children followed upon arrival to Canada, but this information was enough for me to see my John’s place in this family line.  James Cowan came to Canada in 1817 with his father, John C. Cowan (of the “The Long Point Settlers“),and family from Scotland, England.  His son, John, my John, was 4 years old, born in 1813.  This was the piece I needed.  Further exploration allowed me to cross-reference this information with that of John’s wives, Catherine Pettit and Charlotte Gibbons.  My mystery was solved.  My John Cowan, according to research, came from Glasgow, Scotland.

Another Scottish branch on my family tree.  Cowan’s belonged to the Colquhoun clan.  And a new search begins…

There is More to Port Dover than Great Fish

Port Dover, hot dog, Norfolk County


Whether you live in Southwestern Ontario or are just visiting, a great place to hang out is Port Dover. Many come for fish at the popular Erie Beach Hotel or for a swim at the beach but I like to go for a footlong hot dog at The Arbor. It’s been close to 100 years (since 1919) serving its famous Schneiders footlongs. They are able to serve many people quickly because of their unique serving set-up. Hotdogs and burgers are ordered at one station, fresh-cut fries at another and ice cream cones at yet another. I usually go with my family and parents and we split up so that one group gets the hot dogs and the other, the fries. We get our food fast and we are eating before you know it even though the serving booths are packed with people. It’s great.  And of course, we don’t leave until we’ve had our amazing soft serve or hard ice cream cone to round out the meal.

They are also unique in the toppings available for hotdogs (or hamburgers if you’re not a “dog” person). There are hot peppers, cole slaw, pickles, radishes and I think, even pickled beets. I always joke with my mom: “Did you get a hot dog to go with your salad?” I’m a bit boring, only “ketchup” for me.

Footlong, The Arbor, Port Dover ON

I almost forgot to mention their Golden Glo. These are special fruit beverages that are only available at The Arbor. Even if you are just in the mood for something to quench your thirst, The Arbor is a place to be sought.

Playoff Time for the Norwich Merchants – A Special Team


The Norwich Merchants


It’s hockey play-off time in Canada and it’s Friday night.  You know what that means … (or maybe you don’t if you’re not from around these parts) there will be a hockey game somewhere to watch either live or on television.  My family can be a stereotypical Southwestern Ontario family in that we love our hockey.  And in our Oxford County community, our Merchants are in a “do-or-die” playoff situation tonight against New Hamburg.

The Merchants and I have a special relationship.  At several points in my life’s journey, I have been connected to this Junior “C” hockey team.  Here’s how:

1.  As one of  the few female ice resurfacing machine operators (The Olympia) in the Township of Norwich, I used to clean the ice for the Merchant games.  This was one of my favourite jobs of all time.  I loved waving at the kids in the crowd, being a part of the hockey experience and having the community all together in one place showing their community spirit.  And just driving the machine itself felt very empowering.  That’s a lot of machinery to be trusted to one small person.  It was fantastic.  Not-to-mention, it makes for some great interview ice breakers since this fact is on my resume.

2.  I met the man I married working for the Township of Norwich at the Community Centre/Arena.  In fact, he trained me to operate The Olympia for the prestigious Merchant games.  I regret that I never got a picture of myself driving it.  I do, however, have this picture with my husband and I on it.  We were only dating at the time. #SickeningSweet

Myself and The Boyfriend (currently husband)

Myself and The Boyfriend (currently husband)

3.  The Merchants trainer, Mark, was my boss while I worked at the Community Centre/Arena.  He could tell you some scary stories about some of the mistakes I made learning to drive the Olympia.  He’s part of the reason I’ve been able to move forward in my career.  He must have told a few good lies as a reference, to a few of my employers along the way; to which I am very grateful. (front row, second from left)

2013-2014 Norwich Merchants

2013-2014 Norwich Merchants

4.  My brother-in-law, Jason, was a former Assistant Coach for the Merchants. (in above: front row 3rd from right) Those were some exciting times to be cheering on the team with a relative on the bench.  It became a regular night out for the family since my parents, my sister’s family and me and my family, would have a reason to go out together.

5.  My nephew, Sawyer, was selected to be a “Mini-Merchant” for a game.  This meant he got to put on the jersey, skate to the centre of the ice and hold the flag for the National Anthem.  Another reason for the families to come together.

Sawyer as the Mini-Merchant

Sawyer as the Mini-Merchant

6.  My son’s, Noah, and Sawyer’s rookie minor hockey team, got to play an exhibition game during an intermission for a Merchant game.  This meant that they not only played, but, got to hang out with the “Big Boys” in their dressing room before they went out.  They each felt very special to be buddied up with a Merchant of their own.  My son even made sure he got a hat signed by all the players afterwards.  He just took the hat for show-and-tell this week.  He is still feeling very proud of those moments.  Those guys made some significant impressions that night.  I hope they know the magnitude of their influence.  #SmallTownHeroes

The Big Bro's and Lil Bro's

The Big Bro’s and Lil Bro’s

 

As you can see, the Merchants show up in a few key spots of my life’s journey.  So here’s a little shout out to this special team!   #GoMerchantsGo!!