’s 12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds: June

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds

I’m very intrigued and excited about’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 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 (  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 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…

What’s in a Family Name?

(Revised March 16, 2015 – see notes after post)

N-O-E-L-S. I automatically start spelling my last name before anyone starts to spell it because 99.5 % of the time, people will spell it incorrectly. Most people want to spell it like Beyoncé, K-N-O-W-L-E-S. The story passed down to me as to why our spelling was different from the one most commonly used, was that our original name was Noel and my great-grandmother felt it was easier to say “Noels” with an “s” than the original Noel without the “s”. When you are young you don’t question things much so that was the story that I went with.

Stephen, Amanda and Beecher Noel

Upon exploring my family ancestry, I soon found that the chance of that story being true was highly unlikely.  My late cousin, Hazel Noels, a genealogy enthusiast like myself, put together a Family Tree compilation titled “Noels Pressey Connections” and noted three different spellings of our family name: “Noel”, “Noels” and “Noles”.  According to Hazel, my great grandparents, Beecher and Ella May Noels, each had their own preference for registering their offspring.  Beecher’s parents, Stephen and Amanda, were registered as “Noel” upon their marriage in 1871.  Therefore, Ella May registered new arrivals as “Noel”.  Beecher, on the other hand, always registered his new children as “Noels”.  Hence, with 11 births in all, some of the family are registered one way and some another.  Later, when various members needed to apply for birth certificates, some were returned with the spelling of “Noles”.

Beecher and Ella May Noels

Exploring further into Beecher’s father, Stephen’s records, “Noel” was not the only spelling that he is registered with.   On the first census that he shows up in, 1851 at 2 years of age, he is Stephen “Knowls”.  In the 1871 census he is Stephen “Knowles”, 1881: “Noles”, 1891, “Noel” and finally “Noels” on his death certificate in 1921.  Stephen’s father, James, has much the same history with his last name only he has an added “Noal” which shows up on the 1881 census.  This dilemma has made it difficult to go back further into the history of my name.  Based on several census records, I know that James Noels originated from England as it is indicated as his place of birth.  What I can’t find, is when he married Mary Ann Tomlin, when he arrived in Canada and did he arrive already married with children?  Because there are so many different spellings, who did he come over as?  James Noels, James Noel, James Noal, James Noles, James Knowls or perhaps he came over as James Knowles?  In which case, perhaps my name’s origins are, in fact, that K-N-O-W-L-E-S that I have spent my life correcting people from spelling.

The exploration continues…



March 16, 2015

A Facebook conversation started with a couple members of my “Noels”-bearing family.  It went as follows:

Heather Noel: … I have no idea how Dennis and I became Noel and the 3 in the middle Noels when dad (Wilf) didn’t know he was a Noel until he got his birth certificate in the 70’s.

Vicki Noels Cornish: Hi Heather, I have Hazel’s research and I also have William listed as James’ father but I can”t find any documents to verify it. That’s why I’m trying to find out when James arrived and whether he was married or not. Then, hopefully, I can start linking everything. And as of right now, I am not a 100% certain we are truly “Noels” as opposed to “Knowles”. It’s looking like perhaps James wasn’t able to spell and therefore left the spelling up to whoever was in charge of the paperwork at any given point. Six different spellings for one person in federal records over a lifetime makes it difficult to verify which is the true one.

Christine Noels: For what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s any one true spelling. It’s only recently that people care if surnames are consistent. Back in Tudor times for example, even literate people would spell their own names in a variety of ways – and the further back you go the more you can see that names continue to evolve. I don’t think there’s a right way to spell it – although I’d pull a lot less hair out if there was!

Vicki Noels Cornish: Hear! Hear! Chris. It would just help me in figuring out which damn James is ours. I’ve gone back into the 1500’s with several family lines but I can only go back as far as 1816 with Noels. I want to know exactly what part of England we come from.  I enjoy the pursuit though. I will get it eventually.

Christine Noels: Me too and no matter which way I spell it I find too many men with the same name and a wife with the same name. I found one or two that could have come from England via the States too.

Cornish Comes to Canada

Having some time off over the holidays has allowed me to some family history research. I’ve been delving into my husband’s family because there are long and heritage-rich ties to Cornwall, England. With a name like “Cornish”, there was no doubt that there would be lots of history to explore.

Thomas James Cornish on his farm
Thomas James Cornish on his farm

The “Cornish” history as far as my husband’s family is concerned, began in Ontario sometime around 1843.  It  was then that 18-year-old Thomas James Cornish, a native of Poundstock, Cornwall, England, came to Canada.  He was born September 8, 1925 in Pounstock, the only son of Saul Cornish and Eleanor Suiter.  According to Cornish Genealogy, written by Cora (Cornish) Leaman in 1967, he had learned the tailor’s trade at which he spent seven years apprenticing for as a boy.  He had one sister, Mary Ann, who also came to Canada and settled in North Dorchester with her husband, Andrew Venning.  Thomas and Mary Ann’s parents are buried in Trewan, Cornwall, England.  According to online records, Saul was a resident of Piper’s Pool, a small hamlet in North Cornwall.

Thomas and Mary Ann Cornish
Thomas and Mary Ann Cornish

In 1847, it was recorded that Thomas married Mary Ann Varnum, in Whitby, Ontario.  By 1848, he had moved his bride and their first son, Albert to a farm located on the 4th concession of North Dorchester, one mile west of Crampton, Ontario.  Ultimately, Thomas and Mary Ann raised a family of 7 sons and 5 daughters in North Dorchester.  Ten of their children remained in the area of the now called, Middlesex County in Ontario but 2 children moved to the United States.  Saul, to Iowa and then to South Dakota in 1879 and Ellen to Iowa and later to Kansas City.  Many of Saul’s and Ellen’s descendants have remained in Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas City.

Standing: Eunice, Ellen Seated Middle: Mrs. Cornish, Mary Ann, Nancy Seated Front: Janie
Standing: Eunice, Ellen
Seated Middle: Mrs. Cornish, Mary Ann, Nancy
Seated Front: Janie
Back: Wesley, Martin, Tom, Arthur Front: Albert, Thomas James Sr., Saul, Porter
Back: Wesley, Martin, Tom, Arthur
Front: Albert, Thomas James Sr., Saul, Porter

Thomas and Mary Ann remained in North Dorchester.  It was here that Thomas died at 81 and Mary Ann at 91.  They are buried in the Dorchester Union Cemetery, a cemetery where many of their descendants are still buried to this day.

Original Cornish Headstone in Dorchester Union Cemetery
Original Cornish Headstone in Dorchester Union Cemetery

Mayflower Descendent – Me?


Researching my family history has become a supreme passion of mine.  It has opened my mind to exploring history to which I never fostered an interest in growing up, and it has shed light onto my being and identity.

Recently, I discovered my 11 X great-grandparents were John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley.  So what? Unless you know a bit about American History, these are probably just another set of names.  They were to me … at first.

As a subscriber to, I’ve created a family tree by inputting individuals and information. From those entries, connections get made by linking my data to records that has in its database.  As new records are added to the database, “hints” are issued for individuals that I have posted in my family tree who are connected to those records .  Because my tree is quite large (from several hours of inputting and exploring) I get many “hints” a day on various ancestors.  When I got a hint for Desire Gorham, a 9 X great-grandmother, I reviewed it and added her to my tree without much thought.  When one goes that far back in a line, records become rare and many hints are just other genealogy enthusiasts who have your ancestor on their trees also.  So, when all of a sudden there were about 16 “hints” for Desire Gorham, I thought I’d better do some investigating because individuals born in 1644 didn’t generate that kind of record data because of the lack good record keeping that far back.

When I went back to have a closer look at Desire Gorham, I noticed her place of birth was listed as Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Although American History is not my forte, I do remember learning about the Mayflower coming from England to Plymouth with some of the first colonists to come to the “New World”.  I thought it was worth investigating because if I knew if I were to travel there for ancestry research there would be lots to see and do because of the history of the place.

Reviewing more of the hints for Desire, there were connections to her parents who were listed as Desire Howland and Captain John Gorham.  With them, pictures were given as “hints”.  As a visual learner, I was quick to open them.  Low and behold it was a picture of a headstone listing the children of John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley, Pilgrims of the Mayflower.  Desire (Howland) Gorham was one of them.  WHAAAA…????

I couldn’t believe it.  There in front of me was evidence that I was a descendant of the Pilgrims that came on the Mayflower.  Of course, I have started to delve into who John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley were and what their significance was to this prominent point in history.  Apparently, John fell overboard during the voyage and was rescued.  There is a painting that depicts the dramatic rescue of John Howland.  His name is also on the “Mayflower Compact” which served as the first governing document of the pilgrims.  It is so exciting to learn that I am a descendant of those who left such a legacy.  What would these ancestors say if they could see the world that they helped start?  Fascinating.

This now opens up questions for how did a Mayflower descendant end up way over here in Southwestern Ontario when the original landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts?  More research to do!  More stories to explore!  More to come…



“Mayflower.”  Wikimedia Commons.  Last modified August 20, 2011. . (photo: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882)

“Mayflower.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Last modified October 6, 2014. .

“Noels-Cornish Family Tree.” Last modified October 11, 2014. .

Scottish Heritage

Scottish Heritage
Scottish Heritage

I’ve known from an early age that I had strong English roots on my mother’s side. Her mother’s father was from Kent, England and her mother’s grandmother was an orphan that came from England as a British Home Child. And up until 2 years ago, I assumed that Mason, my mother’s father’s name, was English too. I’ve always identified with my English heritage. I chose to go on a study-semester to London, England during my 3rd year in university to immerse myself in the world my ancestors walked. Although it was incredible and I could feel the energy of my forefathers amongst me, it was a weekend trip to Scotland that caught my attention. I felt connected to the people, the landscapes, the atmosphere.  I was drawn to Scotland.

Turns out, the Mason’s that my family’s ancestry comes from, is from Scotland.  I was a bit surprised but pleased.  Perhaps this could explain the strong connection I felt when visiting there.  From what I have uncovered through, my 3 X great-grandfather, John Mason, came from Dunbar, Scotland.  There were several John Mason’s as one can imagine so I hope that I have the correct one.  The one that I have been following is listed in the 1841 Scottish census as having an address of Little Pinkerton, Dunbar, Scotland.  I’ve looked it up and it seems to be a small settlement close to the East Coast of Scotland and East of Edinburgh.  Records show that he married Mary Hislop in 1846 in Ancrum, Scotland and they had 4 children beginning in 1847 when John was 22.  Their first son was Charles, second Walter, a girl Christina and the youngest, William born in February, 1856.  It looks as though they began their trek to Canada only weeks after William was born.  The family shows up on the passenger list for the ship, Ontario, that departed from Liverpool and arrived in New York on May 21, 1856.  Sadly, William is indicated as having died during the journey.

John and his family settled in Perth County, Ontario in the Township of Elma.  He was a farmer.  Many of my ancestors were farmers.  He is buried in Donegal cemetery in Perth county having lived a short life of 40 years.  I wonder why his life was cut short?  I have travelled through Donegal in the past completely oblivious to the fact that I am a direct descendant of someone who used to breathe the air there.  I have got to get there to do some research and just be present.  I’d also like to be able to get further back into the lifeline of John Mason from Dunbar, Scotland because the Mason name has some rich history and I have a feeling there is more to learn.


Alice Stone – A Mystery

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

As you may have noticed from my tagline, I love genealogy.  It has morphed from a simple hobby to an all-out obsession.  Years of research, making connections, emailing, travelling and documenting has led to the creation of one magnificent family tree.  One where each branch has its own characters and stories that would entertain even the most unenthused individual.

Currently, I am stuck on one particular branch; my maternal grandmother’s.  My mother’s mother’s mother’s mother or, for a better understanding, my 2X great grandmother, came over from England in 1871 as an orphan. She was, what we now call, a British Home Child.  I’ve had many of chats over tea with my mother about how she remembers her grandmother talking about the tormenting life her mother had had.  When she came to Canada, she travelled with her sister.  They only had each other and when they arrived, they were separated.  My gg grandmother was sent to live with a family as a servant and her sister went somewhere else.  My gg grandmother never saw her sister again.  The stories tell of a life of beatings and hard work for my gg grandmother and she longed for the companionship of her sister.  When she was 18 and no longer had to endure the life she had come to hate, she left the family she was with and married.

I have been able to track my gg grandmother back to her arrival upon the ship Prussian from Liverpool to Quebec in 1871.  There she is on the passenger list, named as Elizabeth Stone and just above is a listing for Alice Stone.  Both indicated as 8 years old.  Twins perhaps?  I’ve made some connections to find Alice but nothing has been successful thus far.  So, I find myself exploring a great mystery; one that has survived in my family for over 140 years.  What happened to Alice Stone?  I welcome any leads should someone read this and have clues that might lead to solving this mystery.