Tuesday 6 January 2015

Discovering Family Memorabilia

In my post of October 21, 2014, I wrote on a story told by a new acquaintance, John Farnham, about changes to the rules about driving on the left-hand side of the road in New Brunswick, Canada. John also told me about an experience his sister, Shirley O’Neill had with respect to reuniting a family with a long-lost piece of family history. The details of that event were published in the Friday, May 21, 1999 edition of the Saint Croix Courier in St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

A few years before, Shirley had come across an old family Bible in an antique store that had been converted from an original old school house. The Bible had been donated to the school and left on the preserved teacher’s desk. In examining the Bible, Shirley found it contained a number of names written in the family statistics section for the family of William and Margaret (Purdy) Murray. She copied the names from the Bible and took them to the Charlotte County Archives, where she had been volunteered her services. Unfortunately there was no match to any name in the registers. But Shirley hung on to the piece of paper on which she had written the names and filed it away with her own genealogical information. For years, she kept asking anyone named Murray about the family but never found a connection.

Then one day in 1998, a letter arrived at the archives office from Carole Confar of Santa Barbara. California. Carole was looking for information about her great-grandfather, Alexander Murray who was married in 1885. On checking the list again, Shirley found the marriage had been recorded in the Bible. Instead of just writing to Carole, Shirley telephoned her to let her know she had come across the family Bible. Carole was so excited she phoned all of her relatives up and down the coast of California.

Many stories about the Murray came to light through conversations with Carole. According to the article in the courier, “[a]pparently three Murray brothers – William, Alexander and James – came to Canada from Scotland and their father gave them the family Bible to bring with them.” They eventually settled in the St. Stephen area and operating businesses together and in partnership with others. William died on board a ship while returning to Scotland around 1888. Alexander moved to Winnipeg after the First World War. James stayed in St. Stephen where he raised a family of 12 children. One of the Murray children, a son Hugh, became an insurance agent. He was the last family member living in the area and appears to also have been the last to have possession of the Bible. Hugh had no children of his own and it was turned over to an antique dealer, with his other effects, after his death.

Carole contacted Marcie Garrymore, owner of the antique store, and they came to an agreement about obtaining the bible. In May 1999, Carole and an aunt, Patricia Sharp, travelled to St. Andrews to collect it. During their trip to New Brunswick, Carole and Patricia met with Shirley, Marcie and other members of the community, including Joe Flewelling, owner of the insurance business previously run by Hugh Murray. He had many stores to tell them about the family. The Mayor of St. Stephen, Allan Gillmor, had them to dinner at his own home, which coincidentally had once been occupied by Hugh Murray. Both Carole and Patricia were overwhelmed by both the discovery of an important part of their family history and by the kindness and hospitality shown to them by all the people they met.

This is one of those real, feel-good stories that genealogists often experience, putting people together with important memories and memorabilia of their history.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.