Tuesday 14 April 2015

Growing up With Cousins

My father’s extended family was very close. Twelve cousins, born within 11 years of each other, grew up together. They played with each other, at least in groups of similar ages. They went to school in the same country classrooms, again for the most part. One of each of their parents were siblings, all of whom had arrived in Alberta together around 1910-11. Two other cousins were born much later, one in 1925 and one in 1935. While much loved, they were not as close as those first dozen.

My great-grandparents, Newton and Margaret Thompson, had six children together between 1885 and 1902. Margaret had another daughter from a first marriage. All the children were born in North Dakota. Two infants died, one in 1892 and one in 1902. The rest grew up in a very close family. The oldest three married in North Dakota, the youngest two in Alberta.
Children of Newton and Margaret Thompson – left to right: Mae, Maud, Carrie, Charlie, Ethel – ca 1925
When Newton and Margaret Thompson decided, in 1909, to come to Canada, to take advantage of the homesteading opportunities, all of their children were on board with the idea as well. He bought two sections of land from the Canadian Pacific Railway near Keoma, Alberta. Charlie, Carrie and Mae came up with Margaret in 1910. Maud and Ethel followed, with their new husbands, by 1911. All the families participated in farming of the original two sections of land, later acquiring other close-by farms in the area where they raised their families.

Isaac Newton Thompson (1859-1937) & Margaret Mary Anderson (1857-1919)
The Children
Mary Maud
Alice Ethel
Carrie Jane
Elizabeth Mae
The Cousins
Margaret Carrie (1909-1933)
Isaac Charles (1912-1974)
Lloyd Willis (1912-1974)
William Calvin (1914-1983)
Robert Newton (1919-1967)
Elizabeth Victoria 
Irven Palmer (1913-2000)
Hazel Jean (1916-2011)
Edward Newton 

Albert Lester (1916-1999)
Bernice Margaret 

Marion Elizabeth (1919-1919)

Mary May

Evelyn Ethel (1926-1926)


Ethel Mae
(1935-   )

Two children of Newton and Margaret died as infants: Florence (1892) and Eveline (1902)

Growing up I always knew my dad had these cousins, but I really never figured out their real relationships and how close they all were to each other, until I started on my own family history research journey.

The families all lived very close to each other in the Keoma-Irricana-Kathyrn (KIK) area so there were ample opportunities for them to socialize and for their children to get to know each other well. And they did that whenever possible. Grandma and Grandpa Thompson were their to oversee the little ones on many occasions, living as they did, near the centre of their children’s farms.
Grandma Margaret Thompson with Lloyd and Ike at the Thompson Keoma house in 1913
Margaret (back), Lloyd, Ike and Elizabeth at the Thompson Keoma house in 1913
As I indicated, the cousins grew up together – played together, went to school together, visited with each other at family gatherings, attended community social events together – in other words, became close friends. Hazel, one of my father’s cousins, actually introduced him to my mother. And another cousin, Albert, was the best man at their wedding. Mom's maid of honour, Virginia, was the wife of Dad’s brother. I believe that every cousin who still lived in the KIK area, as well as a few who travelled from elsewhere, was at their wedding and can be seen in the wedding party photograph I published in my blog post of October 7, 2014. I might have a difficult time actually pointing each of them out, though.
Eight cousins at a family gatherings in 1926 – left to right: Bill, Irven, Ted, Lloyd, Elizabeth, Bernice, Ike and Hazel 
I think that the KIK community in which the cousins grew up might have been much like the old parishes in Devon, England where my Shepheard ancestors lived. The church(es) were central to the social events; family interactions were common and important; cousins grew up together and knew each other well. I even have one example of first cousins marrying each other – John Shepheard and Jane Treby Shepheard tied the knot in 1791, in Cornwood parish, Devon.

Almost all of that group of cousins are gone now. We remember them through recorded stories and photographs. The generation following did not have the opportunity or luxury of getting to know their cousins quite as well. As with many communities, after the children grew up they went their separate ways, many moving to faraway places. Rarely did they ever get a chance to get together as a group without travelling some distance. 
Children, with spouses, and grandchildren of Jimmy and Carrie Shepheard at Campbell River, British Columbia in 1956
Cousins of my generation are only occasionally in contact with each other. Time and space have more or less permanently separated us. Among the next generation, there is even more distance. The opportunities to visit even their first cousins, let alone participate in broader family events, practically never present themselves.
Children, with spouses, and grandchildren of Bill and Norma Shepheard gathered in Sherwood Park, Alberta in 1981

We take those kinds of visits for granted now but they were, and are still an important part of growing up and being reminded of who you are and where you come from. 

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