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.

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Is Charles Mason a Genealogical Connection?

John Mason and Mary Hislop's Headstone in Donegal Cemetery
John Mason and Mary Hislop’s Headstone in Donegal Cemetery

It was a gorgeous fall day here in Southwestern Ontario. I was spending time with my parents and we thought it would be a perfect day to roam the countryside visiting cemeteries for genealogical pleasure. We had always talked about going to Donegal to visit the graves of the Mason’s that brought my mother’s family from Scotland to Canada.  Today we were going to do it.

John Mason is a dead-end for me.  I know he was born in Scotland but I have no record or mention of parents or siblings.  I know he had 4 children but have only ties to the line that is mine directly.  Where are the other Masons’?  For a long time, I couldn’t find Charles, John’s oldest son.  There was a Charles Mason buried in Donegal, ON but dates didn’t match up.  I did eventually find Charles in Manitoba.  He had started his own adventure, a story for another time.

At Donegal today, I got to see John’s and his wife, Mary’s, grave stone.  I could read it.  The original picture I have of the stone is taken too far away for me to make out the inscription.  Standing in front of it in person though, I could see that it read “John Mason – a Native of Co of Haddington, Scotland”.  I knew that already from the records I had gathered.  Stepping back to the next row, I could read the stone for Charles Mason.  This would be the Charles Mason that I had already ruled out as a connection because the dates didn’t match.  Interesting though, he was also listed as a native to Haddington County, Scotland.  This got me thinking.  Could he still be a connection?  He was the only other Mason in close proximity to John and Mary in the cemetery and his stone was with their’s.  The dates would suggest perhaps John and Charles were brothers.  I pondered this because in the extensive search that I had done for John Mason in Haddington (or East Lothian), Scotland only yielded a few results for any Mason in that area at that time so for there to be a Charles “Mason” coming from the same county in the same time period was striking.

Charles Mason's Headstone in Donegal Cemetery
Charles Mason’s Headstone in Donegal Cemetery

Not wanting to let this go and not sure where to go for answers at the current time (my normal work life leaves little time for extracurricular research in the fall), I thought I would plug this new connection into Ancestry.com to see if it might generate hints that could confirm the connection.  Being so I am only inferring my own hypothesis on how Charles Mason may fit into the picture, I included the following disclaimer to anyone who may find it in my online family tree:

“The relation indicated for this Charles Mason is not 100% confirmed.  There are not any documents that I have found to show a definitive sibling relationship between Charles and John Mason.  The relationship is inferred based on the fact that they both come from Haddington in Scotland, they show up separately in Ancrum, Roxburghshire, Scotland at the same time and Charles is listed with John’s family in the 1861 Canadian census.  I am suggesting that perhaps they are brothers but because they are 10 years apart, they do not show up together in the same establishment but did live in proximity to each other.  Both boys show up as farm labourers at 15 years of age.  I’ve imputed Charles into my family tree to see if there might be hints generated that might shed more light onto either Mason that might connect them definitively”.

I shall report any updates should I unveil more.  Stay tuned…

Mayflower Descendent – Me?

Mayflower
Mayflower

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 Ancestry.com, I’ve created a family tree by inputting individuals and information. From those entries, connections get made by linking my data to records that Ancestry.com 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…

 

Bibliography:

“Mayflower.”  Wikimedia Commons.  Last modified August 20, 2011.  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mayflower#mediaviewer/File:MayflowerHarbor.jpg . (photo: “Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor” by William Halsall, 1882)

“Mayflower.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Last modified October 6, 2014.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayflower .

“Noels-Cornish Family Tree.”  Ancestry.com. Last modified October 11, 2014.  http://home.ancestry.ca/ .

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 Ancestry.com, 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.