52 Ancestors – Week 9 – Unknown Ladies

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I would like to present an interesting photo in my possession.

c. 1880s

c. 1880s-1890s

This small photo was found in the very front of an old photo album that my great-aunt Ruth owned. Along side this photo was a set of two others of nearly the same size that said ‘Pa Johnston’ and ‘Pa with girlfriends’.

c. 1900s

c. 1890s-1900s

My best guess is that the young ladies from the first photo are somehow related to Pa Johnston, what my great-aunt called her step-father, my great grandfather, James Washington Johnston (1876-1967). The first photo appears to be possibly older than the second if we compare by way of the fashion.

The first photo must have been taken sometime during the winter as the ladies seem to be wearing heavy winter coats. I especially like the details on the second lady’s coat, they seem to be some sort of flowery piping right along the front opening. The hats / bonnets worn by the ladies in the first photo are also very interesting. I’d hazard a guess that the lady on the left is younger than the lady on the right because of her youthful face, her hair seems to be worn down, and her bonnet seems more youthful.

The second photo is easier to date, based on my limited knowledge of historical fashion, because the ladies seem to be sporting the Gibson Girl fashion popular in the 1890s and early 1900s. James Washington would have been in his early twenties.

52 Ancestors – Week 8 – William George Washington Johnston (a 71-year-old mystery)

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I would like to present a 71-year-old family mystery that has yet to be solved.

Throughout my genealogical research one of the topics that I’ve enjoy the most is learning about family members who have served in war. This is especially true for two of my direct Johnston relatives, consequently, both named William.

William Henderson Johnston was the brother of my great-grandfather, James Washington Johnston. He was born 18 May 1890, in Black River, Michigan and died ‘in action’ just outside of Arras, France on 29 Mar 1917. While not mentioned by name, based on the 31st Alberta Battalion war diary for that day, I’ve concluded that he might have been killed by artillery fire.

Two other ranks are unaccounted for, but I think that it is established that they were struck by a shell when crossing “NO MAN’S LAND” escorting three prisoners. Major Seaton states that he saw a shell strike in the middle of a party that he took to be three prisoners and two of our men, and two others bear witness to having seen such a party. (31st (Alberta) Battalion Order No.138. – 29-3-17.)

I digress, William Henderson is not the subject of this post, that honour belongs to his nephew, my grandfather’s brother, William G.W. Johnston. I wanted to give some brief history of William’s uncle for a note further below.

William George Washington Johnston was born 10 Jun 1917, to parents James Washington Johnston (1876-1967) and Sophia Harriett Basham (1890-1959). A brother to my grandfather, James Henderson Johnston (1913-1981), he was my great uncle, and like many of my relatives he was one that I will never get to meet in this lifetime.

c. 1929 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

c. 1927 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

Like his siblings, he attended, Mowat School where he completed seven and a half years of classes and can be found in the school records from 1924 to 1931. In the image below, the 1929 Mowat December Attendance Record, you can see that Bill is 12 years old and in Grade 6 while his older brothers are in Grade 7 and Grade 9.

c. Dec 1929 (Mowat School Attendance)

c. Dec 1929 (Mowat School Attendance)

My great aunt wrote a bit about her step-brother, “Brother Bill was a born farmer. But World War II was just around the corner and life changed for all of us.” The two photos below are some of my favourites; I love the poses and the clothing they’re wearing. I wish I had a better copy of the tractor photo.

c. 1939 (Bill, Jim, Ern)

c. 1939 (Bill, Jim, Ern)

c. 1939 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

c. 1939 (Ern, Jim, Bill)

On 15 June, 1942, Bill was called up to the Canadian Military in Winnipeg, MB. On the occupational history form he listed his occupation as a farm labourer and he wished to return to this type of work when the war was over. He completed 60 days of basic training as well as 60 days of advanced training with the Winnipeg Light Infantry.

On 11 January, 1943, he was interviewed in W.L.I. Vernon, B.C. The interviewer noted a few interesting things about Bill, “Doesn’t smoke and drinks very little. He would like to be in the heavy artillery because he thinks he’d like it. Dull type, average physique, and not particularly interested in anything. Limited learning ability and no particular liking for Carrier Pl. Unlikely to improve greatly.” He was recommended as either an infantry rifleman or a carrier pl. (Bren Gunner).

Bill was admitted to the Vernon Military Hospital on 11 July, 1942, and was discharged on the 31st. He was then granted sick furlough from 1st of August to the 22nd. His sick leave was extended to 5 September and he returned on the 4th of September.

On 1 March, 1943, a transport warrant #A362, 085 d/17 Feb 43 was issued.
S.O.S. W.L.I. on t’fer to 3rd ??? BN Regina Rifles on 23 July, 1943.
S.O.S. for A-P 3 rd Regina Riles on 17 August, 1943.
T.O.S. for A-P 2nd Airfield Defence Bn. (Regina Rifles) on 18 August, 1943.
Attached for a/p ex pay to #12 Dist Depot (Farm Duty) on 31 August, 1943.
Ceases to be att’d f.a.p. on retuning to Unit 17 October, 1945.
S.O.S. F.A.P. on transfer to 31st (Alberta) Recce Regiment on 5 November, 1943.
T.O.S. 31st (Alberta) Recce. Regiment on transfer from 2nd Airfield Defence Bn. (R.R.) on 6 November, 1943. Rank is now a trooper.
Granted leave and furlough with R.A. to 3 December, 1943. TWA547586
Att. for rations and qtrs. to KORC(CA) Victoria to 7 December, 1943.

Bill never made it to any battlefields. The record of military service indicates that he was listed as being A.W.L. at 2200 hours of 27 February, 1944. He was never seen alive again.

Sadly, with special grief to Jim and our mother, Bill had died while in the army…Bill of the blue, blue eyes and the kind and honest heart.

On 10 February, 1945, Bill’s body was found in brush outside of Chiliwack, B.C. The causality notification form indicated that the presumed date of death was the day he went missing on 27 February, 1944. A letter was sent from G.S. Perrin, Brigadier, of the Department of National Defence Army, to my great grandmother, Sophia Johnston, that indicated the body of her son had no evidence of bone fractures and because of the advanced state of decomposition the coroner was unable to record the actual cause of the death.

Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Free Press (13 Feb 1945)

Bill’s body was discovered wholly by accident when an 18-year-old boy, Gerald Walsynuk, found it in a remote spot of Oscar Hotchkiss’ Farm near Lickman Road. The body was found lying behind a log, under some cedar trees, near a stream of water. The body was fully dressed in battle dress including black coveralls and a black tam on the head.

The British Colombia Police report sent along with military records from LAC is able to fill in a few questions. Lieut. Chet Woods, who was attached to the 41st. Alberta reconnaissance Regiment, Vedder Crossing, B.C., while talking to a Miss A. Flynn, informed her that a private of that unit had gone insane and wandered away from the camp and that they had searched for the man but without success. If the above is true then it is possible that William G.W. Johnston is the man in question. Capt. Mooney was there that night and might be able to shed some light on the matter.

This is where the report ends abruptly. I do not know whether the police were able to get a hold of Capt. Mooney or whether they were able to conclude the report. I contacted the Chilliwack RCMP office but to no avail as their records only go as far back as 1971 and anyone who might have known if there were earlier records have either died or retired. The Chilliwack Archives were able to provide me with a few newspaper articles but they also do not provide a conclusive answer. My next step is to contact Canada National Defence to determine whether they have an archives department that might hold something. I also want to contact the Canadian Military Education Centre Museum to see if they have any ideas on where I should turn next, however, their hours of operation are limited and I have not had the time to contact them.

I have no idea what happened to my grandfather’s brother and I don’t know if I ever will. Was the pressure of his post too much for him? Did he loose his mind and commit suicide or was he a victim of homicide? I wonder if a more conclusive answer would have been made if his body was found sooner. It seems like such a bizarre set of circumstances I really don’t know what to make of it. Based on my current knowledge of Johnston family we have no obvious history of mental illness. The closest instance I can think of is that Jane Atchison (1854-1893), William’s grandmother, died of asphyxiation during an epithetic fit.

Chilliwack Newspaper (7 Mar 1945)

Chilliwack Newspaper (7 Mar 1945)

Bill was buried on 5 March, 1945, with full Military Honours in the Canadian Legion Cemetery in Chilliwack, B.C. Row C, plot 57. He is one of 9 individuals buried there. After the death of William George Washington there was some superstitious feelings on naming any further Johnston babies William in case further tragedy might befall the family again. Consequently I have no uncles, cousins, or nephews named William.

52 Ancestors – Week 7 – Elizabeth Atchison

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my 2nd great grand aunt, Elizabeth Atchison (1857-).

Elizabeth was the sister to my 2nd great grandmother, Jane Atchison (1854-1893), who was married to my 2nd great grandfather Noah Holt Johnston (1851-1940). She was born to Irish immigrants George Atchison (1818-) and Margaret Clark (1825-) and had five other siblings (two brothers and three sisters). They lived in Renfrew county Ontario, more specifically the township of Alice and Fraser.

Elizabeth, as well as her parents and siblings, can be found in the 1861, 1871, and 1881 Canadian census records. What is interesting to note is that in the 1881 census another young girl is living with the family by the name of Margaret Clarke Atchison (1874-). Who is this young girl, another sister perhaps?

In reality she is the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Atchison! At only seventeen Elizabeth born a young daughter- the father is not listed in the birth record. I wonder who he could have been, a young boy her own age or someone older, perhaps a married man? Elizabeth was so young and in 1874 I can only imagine that her reputation would have been ruined within the township considering the views of illegitimate children and their mothers in the Victorian era in both England and America.

1874. Ontario Births

1874. Ontario Births

I am unable to find George and Margaret, nor their daughters Jennie, Elizabeth, or Nancy in the 1891 Canadian census. I know that Noah and Jane had moved across the US border to Michigan where Noah worked on the railway. My grand uncle William Henderson Johnston (1890-1917) was born in Black River, based on attestation record, and it is in Alcona where Jane died in 1893, from a fit, today I have had the luck in finding a record of her death! (She is recorded as Mrs. Noah Johnson) I have just come across a website for Alcona genealogy that I will now spend time looking over for the Atchisons.

Back to the Atchisons- I am inclined to believe that George and Margaret also moved south along with their daughters: Jennie, Jane, Elizabeth, and Nancy. Nancy Atchison can be found in the 1880 US census as living in Alcona county which is where Black River is also located. I imagine that young Margaret Clarke would have been said to be the daughter of her grandmother giving Elizabeth a better chance at marrying some gentleman without the worry of her tarnished background.

Today, I have found what appears to be a marriage record for Elizabeth Atchison to Alexander Sloan, an Irish immigrant, in the town of Black River in 1892. While the record does not indicate the bride’s parents it does indicate that the bride was born in Canada during the right birth year (1857) to make this a likely match.

52 Ancestors – Week 6 – Mary Sarah Pelletier

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my maternal grand aunt, Mary Sarah Pelletier (1898-).

I do not know much of my grand-aunt, what I do know I’ve gathered from census records. My mother tells me she remembers little of her aunts who seemed to have been all given ‘Mary’ or ‘Marie’ as a precursor to their name.

Mary Sarah can be found in the 1901, 1906, 1911, 1916 and 1921 census living on the Crooked Lake Indian Reserve. On the 1916 census she can be found living with her husband James Agecoutay. Mary Sarah and her three children (David, Emma, and Stephen) are later found living with her father in the 1921 census; Mary Sarah’s marital status is listed as widowed.

1921 census

1921 census

From here on I do not know what became of my great-aunt or my cousins. I wonder what happened to James Agecoutay, he likely died by disease or misfortune. The birth of his youngest child indicates that he most likely was still alive only 15 months prior to the census. A basic search of Saskatchewan’s vital records has provided me with no new information. I’m not sure what sort of records I can search to progress in finding how what happened.

When the TRC public archives opens I may be able to search available records of Residential Schools to find relatives who attended them. It is likely that my cousins attended the Crooked Lake Residential School like their mother (and most likely their father too).

52 Ancestors – Week 5 – Napoleon Pelletier

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my maternal grandfather, Napoleon Pelletier (1905-1985). He was born on the Cowessess First Nation to parents Joseph Pelletier (1876-) and Marie Adele Lerat (1878-) in 1905. He had six other siblings that I am aware of although it is highly possible he may have had more.

Napoleon attended the Cowessess Indian Residential School and he can be found in the 1916 census. Cowessess Indian Residential School opened in 1898 and was later renamed Marieval. Residential schools that ran during this era typically used the half-day system where students would attend classes for half the day and work the other half. Napoleon would have most likely worked in the fields to provide food for the rest of the students or done other chores to keep the costs of the school low. My grandmother- his wife, Marie Cecilla Allary, also went to Cowesses. Her memories of the school during this era were not very pleasant, she remembers that the uniforms were rough, almost like potato sacks, and that she worked mostly in the kitchen to provide food for others students rarely ever spending time in a classroom.

pelletier, nap 1916 census

c. 1916

One of the issues I have with researching my Aboriginal ancestors are the records. First, there is nothing much in regards to census records before Saskatchewan became a province in 1905. The area where my family would have lived was known as The Territories, more specifically Assiniboia, but what complicates the search for them in official records is the fact that they traveled between the Canadian and United States border.

Another issue in regards to researching Aboriginal ancestors are the names. Names that I am related to are Agecoutay, Allary, Lerat, and Lavallee – this is not an exhaustive list. When looking at the census records between 1901-1921 there are many families on the reserve and just outside of it with these names and it’s hard to determine who is the right Napoleon Pelletier. Furthermore, the spelling of these names are varied and it is difficult to look for family when Pelletier has been recorded as Pelter, Peliter, or even Pelger! What worries me further is whether family members also went by traditional names which I would have no know of thereby missing individuals entirely.

Napoleon married my grandmother sometime in the late 1920s or very early 1930s; he and his family moved to southern Alberta where they lived on the Blackfoot (Siksika) reserve and where Napoleon worked as a miner. I have located two photos of my grandfather from the Glenbow Archives during this time. My grandfather is in the second row, second on the left.

Napoleon fought in Italy during the second world war. I have yet to get a copy of his military records although I’m very interested in taking a look at them. Apparently, Amsterdam was one of his favourite cities and when my mother came to visit me this past summer she lit a candle in one of the churches in his memory. My mother says he never spoke about his time in the army but that when he returned his once black hair had turned white and said it was because of what he had seen. (I have gotten the photo below restored and gave it to my mother as a Christmas present in 2012.)

c. 1941

c. 1941

Napoleon passed away just before Christmas in 1985. He is buried alongside his wife in Marieval, Saskatchewan, at the Sacred Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church. There is still much that I want to know about my grandfather and the fact of the matter is that I just haven’t asked enough questions. This is the year that I am going to sit down with my mother and contact my other relatives in order to get as much as I can.

52 Ancestors – Week 4 – Joseph Pelletier (the Carnegie Hero)

This week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my mother’s side of the family. Being the ‘baby’ of the family I have missed meeting many of my older relatives simply because I am the age of many of my nephews and nieces, as a consequence, many events that my siblings have been privy to have happened long before I was born.

Today, I am going to write about one of my uncles, Joseph Pelletier (1947-1973). Joey was born the second last of my mother’s siblings, eleven children in total. My mother and her siblings, including Joey, grew up on a Blackfoot reserve in southern Alberta.

Being Aboriginal children in the 1930s-1960s they would have been required to have attended Indian Residential School. I do not know much about their lives during their childhood and youth as there are only three of the eleven siblings alive today, including my mother, and I believe this reflects on the harsh lives they lived. I can only speculate, based on my studies and work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, on the treatment of my mother’s siblings in the residential school system. My mother is lucky, she can remember mostly good memories of her time at Crowfoot IRS either because her experience was better than most or because she has blocked any painful memories out for good reason. Anyway I am getting off topic- more on Indian Residential Schools in a future post.

On the morning of 29 Jul 1973, while swimming in the Bow River, 10-year-old Thelma A. Wells, became caught in the revolving current over a hole in the river bottom and called for help. Joey, my uncle, having heard her cries, entered the water fully clothed and swam to her. A struggle ensued; and both were submerged briefly several times. Joey called for assistance. His younger brother, Robert, entered the water and swam to them. While Robert was able to take Thelma safely to the bank, Joey floundered in the spinning current over the hole and drowned before help reached him.

The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded Joey the bronze Carnegie Medal in recognition of his outstanding act of heroism. The purpose of the Carnegie Hero Fund is to award individuals in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

pelletier joey newspaper

c.1973 (Calgary)

Above is a clipping from a newspaper, most likely from Calgary, that was with the Carnegie award certificate in our basement. I do not know what has happened to the bronze metal itself because we do not have it. I can only hope one of my aunts have it in their possession otherwise it has been lost, most likely when the government seized my grandmother’s property when she passed away in 1990. I am tempted to contact the Carnegie Hero Fund to see whether a replacement medal can be given to the family again. Couldn’t hurt to ask anyway.

c. 1962

c. 1962

While I do not know much of my uncle Joey this act of bravery makes me wish I could have known him during his brief life. One of the rare photos I have in my possession shows a smiling young man full of life– even a bit of a comedian, but who isn’t at 15? I wish I had more photos of him as well as other members of my family whose faces are now lost to memory and time. This is why I treasure the photos, documents, and artifacts I am able to get my hands on. It is important to me to discover and uncover as much information as I can about my family- the more I get to know them the more I get to know myself.

52 Ancestors – Week 3 – Ruth Sarah Goodson (the girl who married a dustman)

For this week in Amy Johnson Crow’s genealogist challenge: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, I am going to write about my paternal 2nd great-great grandmother, Ruth Sarah Goodson (1848-1925). She was born in London to parents Joseph Goodson (1796-1865) and Ruth Blanchard (1812) in Apr 1848 and was later baptized at St. John at Hackney Church.

An interesting piece of writing that I have is a copy of a letter sent to Ruth Goodson, by her teacher, Emma Johnson. Ruth would have gone to a school in the Hackney area but I have yet to determine what school she would have attended. While I wouldn’t be surprised that Ruth and her sister would have had a governess in the home I’m not completely sure whether this would have been feasible but I will continue this thought further below.

2 Tyssen Terrace
London, England
December 27, 1863

Dear Ruth,
I was sorry I was not at home when you brought me that very beautiful present.
I shall always think of your kind heart when I use the Bible, but indeed you should not have allowed yourself to purchase such an expensive present.
It makes me feel quite grieved when I look at it, and were it not that I know you feel such pleasure in giving it, I should hardly like you accept so very handsome a book.
I thank you very much indeed from the very kind and grateful feeling which prompted the gift.
Such feelings are all very delightful to a teacher, coming from those whom she has loved and tried to train in the path of duty.
With kind regards to your excellent mother, and with best wishes that your care towards her may bring stronger health, and with best homes of a Happy New Year for you, death Ruth, believe me.

Your affectionate friend,
EMMA JOHNSON

I wonder what kind of relationship Ruth had with her teacher to give such a nice present. Ruth would have been fifteen in 1863 and it would be my guess that she would have been learning proper Victorian etiquette and how to run a home. It would have been nice to have the original letter but I don’t have it and don’t know where it would have been kept. I’m not sure where my great aunt Ruth’s personal papers were taken after her death; whether they were destroyed or if someone took them. It would be nice to find out where many of her original papers were taken.

Ruth married John Basham on 7 Feb 1869. My great aunt Ruth wrote of her grandmother in her essay entitled “The Bashams of Mowat.”

John had been born on a farm in Essex, England, later coming to London, with some of his brothers, to set up a small business as garbage men. It was while making his rounds, that he often met, at the back gate, the genteel and educated Ruth Goodson. In spite of her father’s warnings and threats, Ruth was captivated by the charms of the handsome John, and later they married and became the parents of eight children, all of whom came to Canada, at different times, except Jessie, who became Mrs. Owen Gower, and Amy, who married a London bus driver, named Joe Charles.

What kind of ‘threats’ did Ruth and John suffer at the hands of her father? Was she cut off from the rest of her family or did she lose any dowry or inheritance? Based on where they lived in the Hackney area, which was destroyed in the blitz of WWII, and what Ruth’s father did as an occupation I do not know that they were so well off as described. Joseph Goodson was born in Bethnal Green and worked as a ‘dust collector’ and ‘labourer’ and so I don’t know why he would have looked down on John Basham so harshly. Joseph, himself, would have come from an impoverished background and might understand the struggles of finding a wife. It’s possible he hoped his daughter would have made a better prospect for someone of higher class.

Ruth had three sons and five daughters:

John Fredrick (Did not marry)
Ruth Edith Married Fredrick Alfred Storrar
Jessica Grace Married Owen Levenson Gower (Stayed in England)
Amy Florence Married Joseph Charles (Stayed in England)
George Edward (Did not marry)
Sophia Harriett Married Thomas White
Married James Johnston
Ernest Henry Married Jane Murray-Ross Taylor
Ada Louisa Married Alexander Munro

Ruth immigrated to Canada along with her husband, John, in 1903 and settled in the Mossey River area. They left Liverpool in Jun 1903 and traveled on the S.S. Tunisian with their son George Edward and their daughter Ada Louisa. A large two-story log house was built on the south side of the Fishing River, a half-mile from where the Mowat School was built. Mr. and Mrs. Basham lived there the remainder of their lives, their home a welcome stopping-place for travelers and for preachers who came in the summertime to hold church services at the school. John passed away in 1915 and Ruth passed away on 9 Jun 1925 of a massive heart attack, both are buried in the Fork River Cemetery along with their eldest son John Fredrick.

(Jul. 2012)