Saturday, 16 June 2018

Following the Research Trail in Southwestern Ontario

Wellingon County Museum and Archives

Ontario covers a vast area and I swear my ancestors lived in most of it! It would take more than one or two research trips to explore all the potential repositories of information about my family's past. The OGS conference that I attended was in Guelph so I plotted a research trail in Southwestern Ontario which took in various places where my ancestors lived. 

McLaughlin Library, University of Guelph

There was a distinct Scottish flavour to the family members who made it this far west in Ontario. The conference was held at the University of Guelph and as its McLaughlin Library is noted for its Scottish collections, it was a natural place to start. The library also has a great deal of information about the places where the Scots and others settled in Ontario. I spent many an hour looking for books in the stacks and trawling through microfiche and microfilm to find official Ontario records related to landholdings and voting rights. They also have a new archive area where you can access their special collections after ordering them online. The McLaughlin Library holdings can be searched at

Wellington County Museum and Archives

Just a wee bit north of Guelph, in the town of Fergus is the Wellington County Museum and Archives. The exhibits were worth a look. The museum is in the former poorhouse and one of the exhibits was about the life of the inmates there. It didn't take much, just a little misfortune in the days before social networks and there you were in the poorhouse for the rest of your days. 

Early on in my trip, I looked up information on the death of Ann Ross Matheson online. I was surprised to find an entry for her buried in Leith Cemetery on Find a Grave. Granted, her husband, Kenneth Matheson, is buried there but I somehow doubt that Ann's body is there as she died about 20 years before he did when they were living in Puslinch, which is a far distance from Leith. I dropped in to the Archives which are in a building behind the museum. The staff there were very helpful with my quest to find Ann's gravesite but there was no eureka moment, unfortunately. 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

My Ontario Family History Hunt on the Ground

The OGS Conference

There's nothing like being in a room of fellow enthusiasts. The energy fills the room and it makes you want to get out there and make something out of your family history! The 2018 OGS Conference had lots of helpful classes, including one about blogging.

The blogging presenter said not to cut and paste from Word because of formatting problems. I always cut and pasted from Word without a problem, or so I thought until I saw what happened to the beginning quote on my last post. Hmm, maybe she has a point there.

It was hard to choose among the many presentations. All that I attended were full of useful tips and info but there were two that really stick out in my mind. The first was "What to Do When You Die", told with humour and plenty of food for thought. The second was a presentation on the Rural History Archive which is a wonderful resource of transcribed diaries from rural Ontario from people in all walks of life. You can even get in on the act and do some of the transcribing yourself.

It was fun to meet new family historians and be with my own tribe for a weekend. We all seemed to gravitate to the Marketplace at one time or another. I think there was a method in their madness when the organizers placed coffee and cookies there and gave us passports to be signed by every vendor for a draw. I confess to buying a few genealogy related items!

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Stabilizing Force Behind the Family Unit


            Come they with or without money, come they with great working
            sons or with only useless girls, it is all the same, The Scotchman is
            sure to better his condition and this very silently and almost without
            complaint… *

The quote above was extracted from information read to the 1841 Emigration Select Committee by Dr. Thomas Rolph, a former Upper Canada Emigration Agent. I am sure that the information was accepted by the select committee as read but the phrase “with only useless girls” trips up the modern reader.

The phrase not only goes against our pc culture, it also wasn’t true, although maybe the male select committee or the person who wrote the quote hadn’t really thought about the value that girls and women brought to the development of Upper Canada and early Ontario. 

Running a farm required lots of labour in the fields and in the home. Everyone played their part in the time when there were few labour-saving devices. It was also the custom in families where the father had a marketable skill that he would go in search of work after harvest time leaving his wife and children to keep the farm going during the winter months. ** This way he could earn money to invest back in the farm. In many ways, it was the women who kept the family unit together. 

Sadly, my 3x great grandmother, Ann Ross, the wife of Kenneth Matheson died shortly after her last child was born. The child’s death followed shortly after. The censuses after her death show Kenneth and family living in one place after another as he pursued work as a stone mason. As the children grew older they left to start families of their own but the first to leave, the oldest boy, Alexander lost touch with his birth family for 40 years. They left no notice of where they were going when they upped stakes from the scene of their family tragedy. Would they have left so precipitously if the family unit had stayed intact? 


Campey, Lucille H. The Scottish Pioneers of Upper Canada, 1784-1855: Glengarry and Beyond. Natural Heritage Books, Toronto, 2005 *p127

Glazebrook, G. P. de T., Life in Ontario: A Social History. University of Toronto Press, 1968. **p143

The letters of Alexander Matheson to his sister, Margaret Thomson.