Thursday, 3 October 2019

Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes Blog Posts


My newest post on my Mother Nature’s Test blog (Natural Disasters and Family Misfortunes 18: Comets & Meteorites) is a continuation of similarly-themed subjects started on this blog. They were and are meant to point out many of the natural phenomena that have impacted individuals and families and, in many instances, caused changes in lives and livelihoods.

Links are attached to the titles below for readers who wish to go back and read (or re-read) any of them.


Examples of how people endured natural and environmental changes will continue to be published on the Mother Nature’s Test blog in subsequent posts. There is no shortage of stories about how nature has affected the lives of people around the world and throughout history. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Errors in Family-Provided Information


I am sure most genealogists have found mistakes in information passed along to them by other family members. Which is why we need to check everything. But I did not expect such a thing to happen so close in term of generations.

For years I have carried the name of one of my father’s deceased sisters on my family tree as Marion Elizabeth Shepheard, who apparently was born and died in 1919. The information about her birth date came from a write-up done by my dad for his family, published in KIK Country, the history book of the area in which they lived in southern Alberta.

It appears he either was misinformed or did not remember the facts. I do not know where the information about her name came from. It could have been from my parents or perhaps just a typo on my part.

The Edmonton Branch of the Alberta Genealogical Society recently put together a new source of information called the Alberta Name Index. It contains the names of Alberta residents found in various documents including probates, local histories, obituaries, coroner records, land records, etc. As a matter of course and curiosity, I do searches for my surname on every index I find. I did so for this one as well and came up with two instances. Why there were not more I do not know but the index work is only in its infancy.

In this case there were two hits: one for my uncle and aunt whose names were included with a write-up about her family in another area history publication, the Hussar Heritage; and one was in a 1921 Coroner’s Report concerning the death of an infant by the name of Marion Margaret Shepheard. I thought the death details of the baby were curious, firstly because of the similarity of her name and since the date was so close to that of my dad’s sister.

I found the reference to the Hussar Heritage without too much trouble. While you can purchase copies of it on Amazon (it is quite expensive), the book was actually digitized and is available through the University of Calgary Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections. This and other collections are worth checking out.


I asked friends who live in Edmonton if they could check on the documents when they next had a chance to visit the Provincial Archives of Alberta, where birth, marriage and death records are kept. The Coroner’s Report recorded the cause of death was pneumonia. The death record showed she died in the village of Irricana, on 5 December 1921, at the age of four months, although it spelled her surname as Shepherd. Neither document named the baby’s parents so that left a question as to whether she was family.


Irricana was, of course, where my grandparents’ family lived which strongly suggested Marian Margaret was my aunt. That was further demonstrated on a newspaper clipping I have that referenced the death of Marian Margaret Shephard, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. P. Shephard – more spelling problems. I thought the “Mr. and Mrs. P.” should have been Mr. and Mrs. J. P. The clipping is undated and there was no indication where it was published. So, it was not helpful in determining when and where the death occurred.


I spoke to my 84-year old aunt (she is still as sharp as a tack) about her deceased sisters. She did not know about the death record and coroner's report, but she did confirm the baby's name was Marian Margaret Shepheard. She also knew the infant had died of pneumonia at only a few months of age. She was under the impression the baby was born and died in 1919 as well, so the date of the records was news to her.

The documents my friends obtained were exceedingly helpful in unraveling this situation. I am still curious how we were able to get the death record when the infant does not appear in the death index on the provincial archives list. I have checked the list for the other baby who died, Evelyn Ethel Shepheard, apparently in 1926 (I will have to check further on that date now), but she does not appear on the list either. Both are still in the restricted window of 120 years for birth records. I did try to get the certificates before but was unsuccessful. Perhaps both birth dates were wrong.

I am trying to get information from the town of Irricana about the burials. I do have a plot map of the cemetery so am hoping there will be records of names and dates as well. Find A Grave has an entry for Marion Elizabeth Shepheard with birth and death years of 1919. I don’t know where the individual who posted the information got it, but it is wrong. Perhaps the cemetery records are too. The town has erected a plaque for many individuals “whose burial places in this cemetery are unknown” but it shows the two little girls as just "baby Shepheard" so it is not of great usel.


Many family records I have are coming together, even with all the spelling errors. Surprisingly (or perhaps not!), some containing information I thought were correct after all these years have been shown to contain errors. The lesson is that one should take nothing for granted, even the statements of very close relatives.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Integrating Searches


A family historian contacted me through my Online Parish Clerk (OPC) website last week looking for information that might confirm a family relationship. The problem brought up two things genealogists should always be concerned about: using a variety of sources; and the limitation of indexes.

Jeremy commented: “According to a transcript on Find my Past my 2nd great grandfather, William Saunders, married Jenny Adams in Malborough on the 22nd January 1834. I am trying to confirm that his parents were William Saunders and Elizabeth Widdecombe and am hoping that the original details of William and Jenny's marriage will provide some additional information. I wonder whether you can help by sourcing the original marriage details?

I replied that I did not have copies of the original parish registers for Malborough parish in Devon, so could not look up the details of the event in my own OPC files, but could help with looking at other data. That parish is not one that has images of its registers on FindMyPast (FMP) as many Devon areas do. The marriage  predated the establishment of civil records so Jeremy could not order a copy of the record from the General Record Office.

The Devon Family History Society (DFHS), however, has scanned the records of many parishes that do not have an agreement with FMP and they are available for society members to view. Malborough is one of the parishes the DFHS has in its library. When I looked up the event on their website, I found an image of the marriage entry that has some interesting information on it. In addition to the names of the bride and groom, of course, it also had the names of the witnesses to the event: Richard Adams, Elizabeth Adams, Mary Jane Adams, Mary E. A. Gellard, George Barkwill, and Wm. Widdicombe. That last name was a clue as to a possible relationship to the family connection Jeremy was wondering about.

The marriage entry also said William Saunders was from “Charles in Plymouth” and Jenny was living in Malborough parish. While accurate as far as their being residents in those places, it was not helpful in terms of where they were born. Plymouth is 17 miles from Marlborough, 22 miles by road, so something must have brought William to the area.

The 1841 census has the family living in Blanksmill, Malborough parish, with three of their children. A fourth, as it turned out, was staying in the area with another family member, Mary Adams. Later censuses showed the children were born in Plymouth and Jenny was born in Slapton, Devon. So, everyone was far from home! William died in 1844 in Plymouth. We find the rest of the family living in Charles, Plymouth, in all subsequent censuses from 1851 to 1891, Jenny remaining a widow until her death in 1894. Because of his death year, census records could not tell us where William was born.

The marriage of William Saunders and Elizabeth Widdecombe that Jeremy referenced actually took place in Ugborough parish, Devon, in 1803, another area to take note of. On that entry in the marriage register, available on FMP, William is shown as being from Hartford and Elizabeth from Ugborough. Now there are a few places named Hartford, but they are in Cheshire and Cambridgeshire. While it is possible William was from one of those places, it is more likely that the clerk made an error in the record and he was actually from Harford parish, Devon, right next door.

Harford is the area where a William and Elizabeth Saunders lived for many years and had nine children. I am the OPC for that parish and have copies of all of the BMD registers. One of those children was William Saunders, baptized 30 October 1805. That date fit with everything else we found about William and Jenny Saunders and the conclusion is that he is the person Jeremy was seeking information about even though we cannot yet prove the relationship.

William died in 1834 in Harford at the age of 60; Elizabeth died there in 1863, aged 86. That gives us birth years as 1774 and 1777, respectively, for the them. The 1851 and 1861 censuses show us Elizabeth was born in Modbury parish, Devon. A baptism record from that parish shows a William Saunders born in 1774. It appears they were both from the area. Note that scans of Modbury parish registers are also only available on the members only part of the DFHS site.

As I stated in the beginning, two elements of genealogical searches were important in this study. Looking at a variety of sources was necessary to find all of the relevant data: FindMyPast, Ancestry and Devon Family History Society. Individual parish registers for Harford, Modbury, Malborough and Ugborough showed us detail indexes do not. In order to put together enough information draw any conclusions we had to look at several data sites and, in particular, at copies of the original records.

In addition to investigating and integrating data from a variety of sources, I recommended that Jeremy join the DFHS in order to access much more data than database sites of Ancestry and FMP can offer for the region.