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.

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:

Crestleaf.com’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.”

Dowdings

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

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

Sometimes, You Don’t Have to be Searching to Make a Fascinating Family Find

Family Tree

I work at an educational institution and my department hires student tour guides. Because many students take 2 year programs, we will usually have guides for about a year and then they move on.

One guide in particular, Andrew Leaman, took several programs in a row so he was with us for a few years.  In the beginning, assuming he would be with us a short time, I only made small talk with him and smiled when I saw him since I didn’t expect to know him long.  As he became more of a familiar face sticking around over the course of his various programs, conversations lasted longer and my team got to know him a bit more.  Come to find out, he was a graduate of the same high school as me and came from my home town. That, of course, led to chat about what we had in common from old haunts to people we knew.  He brought in treats once in a while and we all developed a respect for him as he grew as a tour guide.  Later, he became a student ambassador speaking on panels to prospective students of his pathway to success.

As I was thinking about a gravestone discovery for my husband’s great aunt one day in my office, Andrew stopped by to say “hello”.  The great aunt’s name of my stone discovery was Cora Leaman and it occurred to me that Andrew’s last name was Leaman also.  I knew since I first met him that his name was Leaman but at that moment it was like I heard it in my head for the first time.

Andrew Leaman, branch on the Cornish tree

“Andrew!”  I said.  “You’re a Leaman!”  He responded with “Last time I checked”.

“My husband’s great aunt was a Leaman.  Any chance there might be a connection since you are from my area?”

He said it was possible since he knew of there being Cornishes in his family line.  I pulled up my  online family tree and instantly he pointed out “Hey, that’s my grandfather!” and from there we had quite the conversation filling in the gaps of our shared family tree. His great grandmother, Cora (Cornish) Leaman, was the same Cora whose grave stone I was looking for the week prior; my husband’s great aunt.  She was a sister to my husband’s great grandfather Ken Cornish (the same Kenneth Verne Cornish I mentioned in last month’s Crestleaf’s entry).   That makes Andrew a 3rd cousin through marriage. Incredible!

I’m always amazed at how small the world is sometimes but it seemed to be even smaller that day.   The fact that the woman, whose stone I was in search of, was the great grandmother of this student, who I worked alongside for almost 2 years without making the connection, astounded me.  And the timing of the two discoveries was equally astounding.  Synchronicity at its best.  Sometimes, you don’t have to be actively searching for something to make a fascinating find.  Sometimes, you discover something fascinating right there in front of you and you didn’t even realize it was there the whole time.

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds

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

Kenneth Verne Cornish – Not Just a Set of Dates

Genealogy essentially comes down to dates.  The date a person is born and the date a person dies.  Baptism dates, immigration dates, marriage dates, divorce dates.  Dates, dates and more dates.

Kenneth Verne Cornish

Kenneth Verne Cornish, my husband’s great grandfather, was only a set of dates;  April 11, 1903 to June 16, 1950.  That made him 47 years old.  It seemed young for a man to die at this age in the 20th century but one can never tell when there are just dates.  Perhaps he was a smoker in a time when little was known about the detriments of smoking.  Perhaps he passed away peacefully in his sleep from a brain aneurysm that no one could explain.   Or perhaps he died of heart failure that was characteristic of his family line, something that perhaps, my husband should consider since he is a descendant.  Dates, a grave stone and a few pictures.  That was all Kenneth Verne Cornish was to us.  Until…

Kenneth Verne Cornish, Gas Poisoning Inquest

Kenneth Verne Cornish’s Obituary and Inquest Coloumn

About two months ago my husband came home with a photocopy of an obituary and a newspaper story.  Two newspaper columns photocopied on a white piece of paper.  There wasn’t any date or any mention of the newspaper it was clipped from but the words painted a picture that suddenly added humanness to an otherwise anonymous ghost.  “My Aunt wanted you to have this since you are the family ‘genealogist,'” he said.  The story read:

An inquest will be held in the council chamber of the town hall at eight o’clock this evening in the death of Kenneth V. Cornish of Ostrander, who died late Friday night in the Tillsonburg Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital, believed to be a victim of methyl chloride poisoning.

A preliminary inquest was held at the G.A. Barrie Funeral Home on Saturday afternoon, when Coronoer Dr. R. E. Weston and the inquest jury viewed the body.  The jury empaneled by Chief Constable T. I. Corbett includes W. A. Anderson, foreman, H.C. Armstrong, Clarence Ronson, Fred Yager and I. H. Crosby.

Later Saturday afternoon, a post-mortem was performed by Dr. F. W. Luney of London, provincial pathologist.

Mr. Cornish, who was in his 48th year, suffered the gas poisoning while making repairs to the refrigeration unit at the Massecar Locker Service plant at Glen Meyer, early last Wednesday evening.  He returned to his home late in the evening, feeling rather ill.  He suffered a convulsion shortly after one o’ clock the following morning, and was rushed to the hospital.  He suffered a series of convulsions after admittance to the hospital, and never regained consciousness.

Dr. C. A.Richards, who attended Mr. Cornish, hospital authorities, and local pharmacists contacted several laboratories in an effort to find something to counteract the deadly poison.  Finally Professor M. E. Watson of the University of Western Ontario suggested that molar sodium lactate might be of some assistance and a supply was rushed from Victoria Hospital, London by the Tillsonburg Police Department.  A quantity of blood was also brought from London and transfusions were given.

Doctors say that there is no known antidote for the deadly methyl chloride poisoning.

Kenneth’s obituary further provided details to his life.  It mentioned he was a well-known refrigeration expert and electrician, he was married to Marion Watcher, had a son Allan and a daughter, Mary who were both married and had children of their own.  He was also a member of the Otter Lodge and the Canadian Legion.  He didn’t die of lung cancer, aneurysm or heart attack.  He died a terrible, premature death and left a wife, 2 children and 3 grandchildren behind.  He was a husband, a father, a grandfather.  My father-in-law was only 2 when he passed and has no recollection of his grandfather and namesake.  With these 2 columns clipped from an old newspaper, we got a glimpse of who this man was.

Kenneth Verne Cornish – no longer just a set of dates.

Kenneth Verne Cornish, Kenneth William Cornish

Kenneth Verne with Kenneth William, his grandson

12 Months of Fascinating Family Finds

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.

Noels

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”.

Noels

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.