Friday 26 March 2021

How did they meet? Part 1

 Many of our ancestors were born and lived at some distance from each other. So, I am curious as to how they met. I have tried to track the location of past generations of mine and my wife’s, to see where they all were at the time they got married, if not just before. Some searches have been successful; others are still guesswork. The stories I will tell in this and future posts will hopefully shed some light on how love bloomed in past generations of our families.

Our Parents

William Calvin Shepheard & Norma Mabel Miller (m. 1 October 1939)

Bill was born in Irricana, Alberta, a small rural town just outside Calgary, in 1914. Norma was born in Cornvallis, Oregon, USA, in 1917. She arrived in the area in 1929 with her mother, Mattie, to join her father, Ed, who had come up the year before to establish their new farm.

My 1st cousin, once removed, Hazel (Lester) Hewitt-Morrell, told me that she was the one that introduced my parents to each other, probably about 1933. She went to school with Norma in Irricana. All the cousins from Bill and Hazel’s side of the family were close, and she seemed to think that her new friend Norma would be a great fit for Bill. She was right!

Bill & Norma in 1939 (left) and 1969 (right)

William Alexander McKay & Jessie Walker Cooper (m. 31 July 1931)

Bill was born in the small coastal village of Findhorn, Scotland, in 1905. He came to Canada in 1927, initially to work on his uncle’s farm near Tregarva, Saskatchewan. Within a year he had migrated further west to Calgary.

Jessie was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1908. When she finished school, she decided to immigrate to Canada, arriving in Calgary in 1930. She immediately went to work in a local household, in part to repay her travel expenses.

Bill and Jessie met at a local Scottish association get-together, one of many organized by the St- Andrews Caledonian Society, shortly after her arrival. They hit it off almost immediately and tied the knot in 1931. 

Jessie, in 1938 (left); Bill in 1929 (centre); Jessie & Bill in 1970 (right)

Our Grandparents

James Pearson Shepheard & Carrie Jane Thompson (m. 8 April 1914)

My grandfather, James Pearson Shepheard, came all the way from England in 1907, eventually settling in Alberta in 1909 where he was later to work for my great-grandfather, Newton Thompson. During that time, he met his future wife, Carrie Thompson, one of Newton’s daughters. The Thompson family had emigrated from North Dakota in 1911.

Betty Thompson, in her summary in the family history book, Thompson Family History (2006), wrote:

During these early years Newton and Charley leased most of the land east of Keoma, the land all around Bruce Lakes and several sections further to the east. Mrs. Margaret Thompson with daughters May and Carrie could often be seen, together or separately, driving that direction with the saddle horse, Dandy, hitched to the family buggy. The ladies delivered food to the men in the family, the hired hands and any neighbours that happened along to help. All these men were mounted on horses during their shift, night and day, while tending the large herd of over one thousand grazing cattle.

There were no fences in the early days and several cattle owners ran their herds of cattle together after all were branded in the early spring. One very large herd of cattle was handled by Charley and Newton Thompson, Bill Freeman, who lived north of Ardenode and Joe Hinton. . . Newton and Charley employed their own bunch of cowboys to handle their share of the herding. . .

At the same time, an English lad, James “Jimmy” Shepheard, was living in Irricana. Jimmy was a respected and locally renowned horseman, also noted for becoming the master over any and all mean broncos. He was hired during the first years the family was at Keoma, enjoying a good life as one of Newton’s cowboys. Whether Jimmy or Newton’s daughter, Carrie, had eyes for the other one first, is lost in history, but whichever way the romance started, the attraction grew into love and they were married on April 8, 1914.

Carrie & Jimmy in 1914 (left); Jimmy & Carrie in 1949 (right)

Edwin Miller & Martha Alwilda Jane McDaniel (m. 30 May 1895)

Following the US Civil War, many families decided to make new lives in the west. The Millers arrived in Riley County, Kansas in 1868, where Edwin was born in 1870, and then moved to Canadian County, Oklahoma in 1893. Mattie was born in Virginia in 1875. Several of her siblings migrated west to settle in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mattie and her father and younger sister left Virginia in 1894 to visit family, probably ending up in Yukon County later that year or in early 1895.

Ed and Mattie no doubt met through mutual friends and relatives in the Yukon farming community, very possibly through Mattie’s older sister Rebecca. In a letter to my aunt, Rebecca wrote that "Ed Miller drove a spanking team of matched sorrels and a fancy buggy in those days. He was considered a fine catch and got himself a good wife and fine housekeeper."

Did she play matchmaker? At any rate, their courtship must have been short as they were married in Yukon on 30 May 1895. They were devoted to each other until their deaths in the 1950s.

Mattie & Ed in 1915 (left); Ed & Mattie – 50th anniversary in 1945 (right)

            Alexander McKay & Mary Ann Milne (m. 6 June 1902)

Alexander, apparently known as Mike to his friends and relatives, was born in Findhorn, County of Elgin, Scotland, in 1869. He worked as a salmon fisherman for much of his life, until the industry collapsed in the early 1900s.

Mary Ann was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1872. By 1881, her family had moved to the village of Forres, just a few miles from Findhorn. She had two children, out of wedlock in 1897, in Forres, and 1898, in Nairn, Nairn County.

They may have met in Nairn, as for a short time around 1902 he was working as a cattleman at the Glenferness Estate at few miles away from the town. That may have been a job he worked in between fishing seasons. At the time of their marriage on 6 June 1902, in Forres, he gave his address as Glenfernees while she was back living in Forres. They moved back to Findhorn by 1903 where he resumed his fishing career.

Together they raised a combined family of nine children.

            Alexander Cooper & Elizabeth Walker (m. 25 May 1908)

Alexander was born in Brough, Shetland Islands, Scotland in 1867. By 1871 he and his mother, Elizabeth, were living in Govan, just across the river form Glasgow.

Lizzie was born in Elgin, County of Elgin, Scotland in 1882. By 1891, she, along with her parents, John and Sarah, and six of her siblings had moved to Glasgow.

Alexander was widowed when he met Lizzie, not long after the death of his first wife in December 1907. He had a twelve-year old son living from that marriage, having lost a daughter in 1895. Lizzie had a two-year old daughter. The marriage may have been one more of convenience that love although we always lean toward personal attraction as a beginning. In any case they married soon after Alexander losing his first wife, on 26 May 1908 in Glasgow.

Their life together was not to be an altogether happy one, unfortunately, as Lizzie fell ill in 1918, after having six children, and died in 1922.

Lizzie Cooper in 1910 

The stories of great-grandparents will be continued. . .