Sunday, 13 May 2018

Happy Mother's Day!

Thankful for all the amazing mothers that are part of my family story!
My maternal grandmother, my mother, and me circa 1995.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

When You and I Were Young, Maggie - Genealogical Tunes

"But to me, you're as fair as you were, Maggie, when you and I were young..."

Innes Rae Melvin at age 19 shortly before
immigrating from Scotland to Canada.

In 1888, Innes Rae Melvin (1866 - 1920) started work as a ferryman taking incoming settlers and grain shipments across the Souris River in south-western Manitoba. He charged 25 cents to take a wagon with team across the river and lived in a tent by the river during the summer months in order to be available on demand for river crossings. 

That same year, Widow McRae was immigrating to Manitoba from Ontario along with her many children, including her daughter Margaret Florence McRae (1873-1920), to join her oldest son John who had already been farming in the area for two years. Following the death of her husband, Farquhar McRae, the young widow knew that her thirteen children would have better opportunities and access to farm land if they pioneered west.

The McRaes were able to travel as far as Deloraine, Manitoba by railway; however, they had to bundle all their farm equipment, food supplies and personal belongings into wagons to cover the last 50 kilometres to their homestead.  With the Souris River lying between them and their destination, they had to make use of Innes Melvin's small ferry to cross over the river safely.

Their daughter Bella wrote down what happened next:

Margaret Florence McRae at age 17 while she 
was working in Reston MB as a school teacher.

"Maggie, who had taken her Third Class (Grade X) examinations in Ontario, stopped in Winnipeg to attend Model School (teacher training). . . .

Later, the men around town were joking the young ferryman (father) about the family of girls he had taken across the river.  They asked him if he had picked a wife from among them.  To which he replied, 'No, I'm waiting for the one who stopped in Winnipeg.'

In 1891 Maggie McRae, after teaching for a year in a school near Reston, was engaged as a teacher in the South Antler School, about nine miles south of Melita.  Before long, Innes Melvin, who had homesteaded on 22-4-28, was courting her.  Old-timers recall the young couple walking through the bush at Sourisford, swishing the mosquitoes away with branches.

On December 24, 1891, the words spoken in jest by Innes Melvin in the fall of 1888 cam true when he and the young school teacher were married in Melita." 
- (The Melvin-McRae Story by Isabel Reekie, Chapter 2)

From all accounts, the Melvin home was both happy and always full of music.  Neighbours remember knowing that Innes was coming over for a visit because they could hear him singing on horseback before he arrived.  Their children remember Maggie always singing to them at bedtime and while she worked at household chores, cooking big meals for a threshing crew or knitting new winter mittens.  One song in particular stood out as a favourite, When You and I Were Young, Maggie.

"Mama's name was Margaret (she got Maggie). Mama had a clear, sweet soprano voice.  Often she and Papa sang When You and I were Young, Maggie - he coming in with his bass, though he usually sang baritone.  It was their song.
- (The Open Door by Isabel Reekie, pg 8)

Innes and Maggie in the 1910s.

Of course as soon as I read that quote calling it their song, I had to track down a recording of When You and I Were Young, Maggie to have a listen.  Luckily it seems to have been a rather popular track (in fact it was added to the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005), so I had easy access on YouTube to a number of different recording versions online.  I've embedded my favourite version at the top of this post, and it still makes me a little emotional to listen to...

I am forever grateful to their daughter Bella Melvin Reekie for recording her childhood memories and family stories into two books which she shared amongst family members.  Those kind of details  are impossible to know from records alone and would be lost in time without someone taking the time to preserve them in writing.  It is such an incredible gift to know my 2x great-grandparents' favourite song and to be able to still sit and listen to the same music they used to sing as a duet almost 130 years after they first started courting and fell in love while walking through the prairie grasses on the plains of Manitoba!

Friday, 11 November 2016

Remembrance Day...

Thankful for the generations before me who were willing to make sacrifices to defend the rights, freedoms, and peace I now enjoy. Lest we forget... 

Row 1: William Middleton (2x great-grandfather), Pieter Ruiter Sr (great grandfather), William McDermit (2x great-uncle, KIA WWI), Innes Melvin (2x great-uncle, KIA WWI)

Row 2: Edward McDermit (2x great-uncle, KIA WWI), Pieter Ruiter Jr (grandfather), John McDermit (great-uncle)

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Making the Most of a Family Reunion...

The dirt hills of Saskatchewan. 1980s | 2010s

"Last summer, thanks to some last minute flight deals, I was fortunate to be able to attend my first official family reunion! Although my mom’s immediate family gathers together frequently, this was a reunion for everyone descended from my 2x great-grandparents, so there were lots of family members attending who I had never even met before. Plus, it was held at my great-grandparents’ homestead in Saskatchewan, Canada.

Here are a few (hopefully helpful!) tips for attending a reunion to help you prepare to visit with family this summer and learn from my mistakes and successes..."

Click here to finish reading the rest of my guest post for the Next Gen Genealogy Network May newsletter!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

The 99+ Genealogy Things Meme

This is an old meme (started by Rebecca Wiseman who blogs at "kinexxions"), but I'm a new blogger and it seemed like fun, so here it is anyway!

"The list should be annotated in the following manner:
Things you have already done or found: bold face type
Things you would like to do or find: italicize
Things you haven’t done or found and don’t care to: plain type"

  1. Belong to a genealogical society.
  2. Researched records onsite at a court house.
  3. Transcribed records.
  4. Uploaded tombstone pictures to Find-A-Grave.
  5. Documented ancestors for four generations (self, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents).
  6. Joined Facebook.
  7. Helped to clean up a run-down cemetery.
  8. Joined the Genea-Bloggers Group on Facebook.
  9. Attended a genealogy conference.
  10. Lectured at a genealogy conference.
  11. Spoke on a genealogy topic at a local genealogy society.
  12. Been the editor of a genealogy society newsletter.
  13. Contributed to a genealogy society publication.
  14. Served on the board or as an officer of a genealogy society.
  15. Got lost on the way to a cemetery.
  16. Talked to dead ancestors.
  17. Researched outside the state in which I live.
  18. Knocked on the door of an ancestral home and visited with the current occupants.
  19. Cold called a distant relative.
  20. Posted messages on a surname message board.
  21. Uploaded a gedcom file to the internet.
  22. Googled my name.
  23. Performed a random act of genealogical kindness.
  24. Researched a non-related family, just for the fun of it.
  25. Have been paid to do genealogical research.
  26. Earn a living (majority of income) from genealogical research.
  27. Wrote a letter (or email) to a previously unknown relative.
  28. Contributed to one of the genealogy carnivals.
  29. Responded to messages on a message board or forum.
  30. Was injured while on a genealogy excursion.
  31. Participated in a genealogy meme.
  32. Created family history gift items.
  33. Performed a record lookup for someone else.
  34. Went on a genealogy seminar cruise.
  35. Am convinced that a relative must have arrived here from outer space.
  36. Found a disturbing family secret.
  37. Told others about a disturbing family secret.
  38. Combined genealogy with crafts.
  39. Think genealogy is a passion not a hobby.
  40. Assisted finding next of kin for a deceased person.
  41. Taught someone else how to find their roots.
  42. Lost valuable genealogy data due to a computer crash or hard drive failure.
  43. Been overwhelmed by available genealogy technology.
  44. Know a cousin of the 4th degree or higher.
  45. Disproved a family myth through research.
  46. Got a family member to let you copy photos.
  47. Used a digital camera to “copy” photos or records.
  48. Translated a record from a foreign language.
  49. Found an immigrant ancestor’s passenger arrival record.
  50. Looked at census records on microfilm, not on the computer.
  51. Used microfiche.
  52. Visited the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
  53. Visited more than one LDS Family History Center.
  54. Visited a church or place of worship of one of your ancestors.
  55. Taught a class in genealogy.
  56. Traced ancestors back to the 18th Century.
  57. Traced ancestors back to the 17th Century.
  58. Traced ancestors back to the 16th Century.
  59. Can name all of your great-great-grandparents.
  60. Found an ancestor’s Social Security application.
  61. Know how to determine a soundex code without the help of a computer.
  62. Used Steve Morse’s One-Step searches.
  63. Own a copy of Evidence Explained by Elizabeth Shown Mills.
  64. Helped someone find an ancestor using records you had never used for your own research.
  65. Visited the main National Archives building in Washington, DC Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa, Ontario.
  66. Visited the Library of Congress.
  67. Have an ancestor who came over on the Mayflower.
  68. Have an ancestor who fought in the Civil War.
  69. Taken a photograph of an ancestor’s tombstone.
  70. Became a member of the Association of Graveyard Rabbits.
  71. Can read a church record in Latin.
  72. Have an ancestor who changed their name.
  73. Joined a Rootsweb mailing list.
  74. Created a family website.
  75. Have more than one "genealogy" blog.
  76. Was overwhelmed by the amount of family information received from someone.
  77. Have broken through at least one brick wall.
  78. Visited the DAR Library in Washington D.C.
  79. Borrowed a microfilm from the Family History Library through a local Family History Center.
  80. Have done indexing for Family Search Indexing or another genealogy project.
  81. Visited the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
  82. Had an amazing serendipitous find of the "Psychic Roots" variety.
  83. Have an ancestor who was a Patriot in the American Revolutionary War.
  84. Have an ancestor who was a Loyalist in the American Revolutionary War.
  85. Have both Patriot & Loyalist ancestors.
  86. Have used Border Crossing records to locate an ancestor.
  87. Use maps in my genealogy research.
  88. Have a convict ancestor who was transported from the UK.
  89. Found a bigamist amongst the ancestors.
  90. Visited the National Archives in Kew.
  91. Visited St. Catherine's House in London to find family records.
  92. Found a cousin in Australia (or other foreign country).
  93. Consistently cite my sources.
  94. Visited a foreign country (i.e. one I don't live in) in search of ancestors.
  95. Can locate any document in my research files within a few minutes.
  96. Have an ancestor who was married four times (or more).
  97. Made a rubbing of an ancestors gravestone.
  98. Organized a family reunion.
  99. Published a family history book (on one of my families).
  100. Learned of the death of a fairly close relative through research.
  101. Have done the genealogy happy dance.
  102. Sustained an injury doing the genealogy happy dance.
  103. Offended a family member with my research.
  104. Reunited someone with precious family photos or artifacts.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

2016 Q1 Research Update

The first quarter of 2016 is over, and it's time for my first research update!  I thought this would be a good way to keep track of significant research accomplishments and findings, as sometimes it can be easy to feel like I'm not making any progress towards cracking some of those pesky brick walls.  It was a busy semester between grad school and work, so I didn't have as much "genealogy time" as I would have liked, but I was still able to have a few small successes...

Genealogy Research Updates:
  • I ordered the divorce records for my 2x great grandparents (Peter Newgard and Minnie Rasmussen) from the Minnesota Historical Society.  While it didn't have the all the information I was hoping for about whatever happened to Peter Newgard after he deserted the family, it was still very interesting to see the legal details of the case and getting these records is a crucial part of that ever-important exhaustive search
  • Someone on Find-A-Grave was very generous in fulfilling the photo request that I had put out almost a year ago for the headstones of Minnie Rasmussen and her second husband Christian Johnson!
  • In an effort to earn more Find-A-Grave karma, I walked to the Ottawa Memorial over the Easter long weekend and fulfilled a few photo requests.
  • In other headstone related-news, I lucked upon a treasure trove of gravestone pictures for my Ontario McRae's on  I usually just check Find-A-Grave, so this was a good reminder to myself to branch out more often to the other cemetery-related websites.  This particular headstone was one of the 3-generation group stone that had helpful language like "his son", "his wife" etc., included the wife's maiden name, AND had the U.E. post-nominal initials which is all very exciting!
  • Speaking of U.E., I have been chipping away with research on my loyalist lines (Cook, Chisholm, and McRae) in the hopes of one day having enough documentation to apply for certification with the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada (basically Canada's DAR).
  • I inquired to a local church in Saskatchewan about whether or not my great-grandparents were buried in their adjacent cemetery.  Unfortunately the answer was no, but the secretary was going to get in touch with some family still in the area to see if they know any more details.
  • While cleaning up, my mom found a copy of my maternal grandparents' original marriage record and sent me a scan.
  • I added all available pics to the relevant profiles for the Pierson WWI Memorial Project and started working on adding obituaries as LAC digitizes the appropriate service records.
  • My unsorted scanned photo/document folder was reduced from 125 to 92.
  • I cleaned up all the birth and death dates in my tree to conform with the genealogical standard and correct any mistakes I had made at the beginning of my research.
  • I finally found the parents for my "orphan" Find-A-Grave baby!  At one point when I had requested my grandfather's memorial page ownership be transferred to me, the creator of the page also transferred the memorial of a still-born baby that had the same last name. Unfortunately, the little baby wasn't part of my family, and it had become a personal quest to find the baby's rightful family and reconnect them on Find-A-Grave.  Success!

Tree stats:
1732 people
519 photos
2712 records

Monday, 28 March 2016

Ancestor Profile: Rasmine "Minnie" Dorothy Margaret Rasmussen (1853-1930)

When I first started delving into my family history, my paternal Danish roots were probably the branch of my tree that I knew the least about (to be honest, this is probably still the case despite the discoveries I have made).  Once I started gathering information online, I was also surprised that I seemed to be the first "serious" researcher for this line.  I couldn't find any online public trees or message board posts about this particular family.  While this annoyed me at first, as it meant that progress was much slower, I have come to really appreciate having the opportunity to uncover this line's stories on my own.  So for my first ancestor profile, I would like to introduce you to Rasmine "Minnie" Dorothy Margaret Rasmussen, my paternal 2x great grandmother.

Gloslunde church (source)

Minnie was born on January 26, 1853 in Gloslunde, Maribo, Denmark, to Rasmus Rasmussen and his wife Mette Kirstine, just 4.5 months after their marriage in September 1852.  With the arrival of spring, came her christening on May 1, 1853 at the local church.

The entry for Minnie's birth in the Maribo church record book.

In 1855, there was a Danish census held and little Minnie was living with her parents, a new baby brother, her paternal grandmother, and her father's apprentice.  Her father is working as a carpenter in the area.

The family in the 1855 Danish census.
In 1860, there was another Danish census and the Rasmussen family had grown by two more children.  Minnie, now 8, has been joined by siblings Lars, Ane, and Rasmus.  Minnie's youngest brother, Rasmus, has not yet been christened, so is recorded on the census as "Udøbt drengebarn" (unbaptized boy) rather than by name.

Castle Garden was likely Minnie's first glimpse of her new homeland. (source)
Most of Minnie's later American census records concur that she immigrated from Denmark to the United States in 1873.  I have not yet been able to conclusively identify her on a passenger list; however, there is one listing in the Danish police emigration contract records that looks promising.  It is a listing for a Rasmine Rasmussen, 20 years old and single, heading for New York City on March 27, 1873.  The last place of residence is recorded as Langeland, Svendborg which is where Minnie's mother was originally from, so it is possible that she was staying with maternal family members prior to leaving for America.  Whether this is the correct record for my Minnie or not, it is likely that she would have travelled via an indirect route from Scandinavia to America and likely arrived into the Port of New York through the Castle Garden Immigration Center.

Newgard-Rasmussen marriage record from the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Within a few years of arriving in America romance was in the air, and Minnie was married to another Danish-American immigrant, Peter Marten Peterson Newgard.  The wedding took place in Hudson, Wisconsin on June 26, 1875.  This marriage would ultimately prove to be ill-fated; however, for the next five years the couple moved around throughout a number of locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The 1880 census has Minnie (26) living in Odin, Watonwan, Minnesota with Peter (28) who is working as a farmer and their three children: Karen (4), Rosa (3), and Peter (1).

Ultimately, however, the young family settled in St. Paul, Minnesota, and this is where they are found in the 1885 Minnesota state census along with two more children Lee and John Louis.  It is also likely around 1885 that Peter Newgard became a naturalized American citizen, and the legal framework at the time meant that his wife, Minnie, was automatically naturalized as well.

Two more children were born to the couple, Frederick Albert in 1888 and Burtin Leslie in 1890.  However, on October 3, 1891, Peter Newgard deserted the family and left behind Minnie and their seven children ranging in age from 16 to 2.

Newspaper clipping from the St. Paul Daily Globe.

After waiting the legally-mandated three years, on November 9, 1894 a notice was published in the St. Paul Daily Globe that Minnie has applied for a divorce order.  The court records show that there are some delays in the proceedings due to an inability to locate Peter Newgard in order to serve him with the summons.  It seems Minnie believes he may be living with another woman in Chicago, Illinois; however, she does not have an address where he could be reached. In a compromise, the summons were published for six successive weeks in the St. Paul Dispatch and an additional copy of the papers were deposited under Peter Newgard's name at a post office in Chicago.

Ultimately, after listening to testimony from Minnie and a few others, the Judge rules in her favour.  In his decision, Judge Egan states that during the marriage Minnie "performed fully, freely, and honourably all of her duties as wife of the defendant" and that since Peter's "desertion has supported and provided for the seven children . . . with such assistance as they could give her, has cared for them wholly herself by her own labour."  As a result, on February 15, 1895, he granted her a divorce as well as full custody over all the children.

Given the strict views in the time period surrounding divorce and women in the workforce, it could not have been easy for Minnie to survive as a single mother to seven children.  In fact, the 1895 Minnesota state census demonstrates the difficult financial situation of the family clearly.  Minnie is working as a housekeeper and has taken in a number of boarders including a seamstress, a driver, and the large Johnson family.  The three oldest Newgard children still living at home are all also working to support the family: Rosa as a clerk, Peter as a driver, and Lee as an errand boy.
The 1895 Minnesota state census showing the Newgard family.
1896 City Directory

The social stigma towards being a divorced woman is also evidenced in the St. Paul city directories for this time period where Minnie consistently chooses to instead label herself as a widow.

In 1898, things finally take a turn for the better for Minnie, and she is married again to Christian Johnson, the Norwegian widower who has been her boarder for a number of years.  At least as far as the paper trail can show, this is a much happier marriage for Minnie.

A typical city street in St. Paul circa 1908 (source).

The newly blended family in the 1900 US federal census.

Census returns show Minnie and Christian raising their step-children together in St. Paul in 1900, 1905, 1910, 1915, and 1920.  Christian is initially working as a stone mason, and eventually works his way up to being a contractor.  Evidently this provides a comfortable wage, as Minnie is able to stop working as a housekeeper and/or boarding house proprietor and the youngest Newgard children are able to attend school.

1930 US federal census
The 1930 US census finds Minnie living with Christian, now retired, at the home they own at 600 Ivy Street.  Valued at $1000, it seems theirs is a modest home when compared to the value of the neighbouring lots; however they were within the 10% of the American population to own a radio set.  It is easy to imagine Minnie preparing dinner or perhaps relaxing in the evening with a crackly radio program on in the background.

Minnie Rasmussen's death certificate. 

Sadly, the 1930 census would be Minnie's last, as she died of a pulmonary embolism on November 29, 1930 at Ancker Hospital.  Aged 77 years, 10 months, and 3 days, she had been living in the United States for more than 55 years.  Her internment took place at Forest Lawn Cemetery on December 1, 1930.  She would eventually be joined there by Christian Johnson in 1941.

Minnie's gravestone courtesy of Find-A-Grave user Tom.

If there are any cousins reading this that have a picture of Minnie, I would be truly overjoyed to receive a copy (contact box is located on the side-bar to the right)!  I am also always on the hunt to find out more about Peter Newgard... where he came from in Denmark and what happened to him after he left the family in 1891 (for Chicago?) continues to be a brick wall for me.