This site is dedicated to the memory of my parents and to our ancestors. If you are related to those listed, I hope this gives you a better understanding of their lives. Feel free to comment on anything posted, especially if you have additional or different information. The posts on this page chronicle my
research journey and provide resources and links. Genealogy is divided by parental lineage into Lowe and Bader. You can access these by
category from the menu and side links. Please be aware that this is an on-going project. Information will be updated as it becomes available.


In February 1942, in the middle of a world war, Joanne Cornelia Bader married James Edward Lowe in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Joanne (Jo) was born in Holland; James (Jim) in England—both immigrated to the new world as children with their families in the 1920s.

Members of Joanne's large family (there were 13 children) moved to the Pacific Northwest where they operated family-run bakeries and eventually a large cookie factory called Bader's Dutch Bakeries Ltd.

Jim's parents were sent as homesteaders to the Peace River region of British Columbia. James Alfred Dawson Lowe and Isabella Rochester Pickles and their four children (Eileen, Jim, Vincent and Harry) built a cabin in Dawson Creek and learned to work the land. Jim Sr. and Isabella (Isabel or Bell) moved to Vancouver around 1935 with their three teen-aged boys.

By 1937, young Jim had enlisted in the army reserves, probably the British Columbia Regiment (Duke of Connaught's Own), and not long afterward, he met Joanne. When war broke out in 1939, he joined the Royal Canadian Navy for a seven-year stint. After the war they had a total of six children. I am one of those children.

Data for this site has been compiled using original documents, genealogy databases and research done by relatives. Biographies are a combination of that data with family stories and historical research.

My hope for this project and this website is to preserve the stories of our ancestors and provide a link to our shared pasts as well as a potential connection to long-lost relatives.

Journey # 32: Canadian War Diaries Help Build a Story

When I mention "war diaries" to anyone who isn't researching military history, they look confused and wonder if war diaries refer to personal diaries kept by soldiers during a war. But in fact, war diaries refer to the official regimental journals that record the day-to-day activities of a military unit.

For someone researching a relative's service during World War I and World War II, these war diaries provide an account of what happened to the unit and thus to its personnel on any given day.

As you can imagine, this is a dream come true for a genealogist wanting to know what their ancestor's life was like. War diaries can at least partially answer the question, "Grandpa, what did you do in the war?" — after grandpa is gone. In my case, that question would be asked to my grandfather, my father and an uncle.

Since Grandpa and the uncle both served in the army, one in the First World War and the other in the Second World War, I am in luck. However, that same luck does not apply to my father. He served in the navy, and unfortunately, there are no war diaries for the navy. A ship's log records the day-to-day activities of the ship but does not provide the level of detail that an army war diary does. And as far as I can tell, ships' logs are not available for genealogy research (at least not yet).

If you had access to a soldier's actual personal diary, then you are very fortunate. If you don’t, the regimental journals — or war diaries — are the next best thing.

The war diaries I was interested in, those for Canadian regiments for World War II, have been scanned and are available online at Heritage Canadiana. However, the scans have not been indexed and the file names offer no clue as to the regiment, date or any other important information a researcher might need (the file names appear to be microfilm reel numbers). To research them without an index means browsing through hundreds or thousands of images until you find the ones related to your ancestor's regiment or unit. 

But don't be discouraged, because others have indexed them for you. A member (or members) of the Canada at War forum has created an index that provides regiment name and in some cases dates to help you narrow down your search.

As I read through the daily entries for my uncle's regiment during the war, I am gradually acquiring an understanding of what it might have been like for my uncle and the other soldiers, at least in relation to the activities carried out by the regiment and its units. And every now and then, the scans include a document showing soldier assignments that include names and even signatures: genealogy gold!

To see documents and information pulled from war diaries, read this military post:

Journey # 31: Canadian Service Records - Worth the Wait

Both my father and my uncle served in the Canadian forces during World War II. My grandfather joined up to serve in WWII, but was discharged shortly after because of health concerns related to having been gassed during World War I. I had already found his attestation papers his British service in the First World War online.

As part of my genealogy research, I wanted to know as much about their service as possible. I was lucky in that I inherited my father's papers, which included his original navy service record. This provided me with his attestation document and a list of the ships he served on along with dates, ranks and awards. I also had a variety of other memorabilia for his time in the navy, which can be found online in several places, including the following.

My military post for him:

And at For Posterity's Sake, a website dedicated to those who served in the RCN and the ships they served on. 

But I suspected there might be more information available from his official military records. I also wanted to find out more about my father's younger brother, Vincent Lowe, and his service in the army during the Second World War.

Belonging to a genealogical society was very helpful in this pursuit of information as I was able to speak with several researchers who had already acquired relatives' service records and could walk me through the process.

First, I learned that the records for service men and women from World War II (and earlier) are kept by Library and Archive Canada. Next I discovered that acquiring these are now free. There was a time when the person requesting information was charged copying fees, which could actually run into the hundreds of dollars if there were many pages from a long military career. But things have changed and now, a 'genealogy package' of essential document is free. I was warned, however, that it could take three to four months to get the package depending on the number of requests in front of mine.

Library and Archives Canada has a comprehensive site for service records with full instructions on how to acquire them.

To get the records, you don't need to provide proof of relationship if the individual has been dead for more than 20 years. You must, however, provide proof of death. But this need not be a formal death certificate; a copy of an obituary will work just as well.

If the person is alive or has been dead for fewer than 20 years, you must provide either written permission from the individual or prove a close relationship (spouse, child, parent, sibling for example), which means along with proof of death you must include copies of birth certificates for the person, you and possible your parents if the records are for a sibling.

When I began inquiring about acquiring the records, it was just under the 20-year mark for my father's death so I waited the few months to make it easier. Since my grandfather and uncle had died earlier, they were already within the range, but I decided to wait and apply for all at the same time. As it turns out, this was a mistake. By the time I applied, there was a backlog due to the number of requests coming in. When I received confirmation of my applications several weeks later, the letter advised the time it would take was five months. I could have applied for my grandfather's and uncle's records when it was still four months.

But six months came and went with no documentation arriving, so I sent an email inquiry. About a week later, I received an email reply advising that due to a lack of staff at LAC, the wait was closer to eight or even nine months.

In fact, it was about seven and half months when the packages finally arriving in my mail box. If I ordered my uncle's and grandfather's records earlier, I'd have had the opportunity to work on those while I waited for my father's.

But they did eventually arrive.

For my father, the package consisted mostly of copies of original documents I already had.

For my grandfather, there was more than I'd expected since he'd only served for six months. The attestation and discharge documents and letters provided information about his life right before and after his service as well as some of his military history from World War I.

But for my uncle, the package was a revelation. The little I thought I knew about his service proved to be at least partially wrong. The documents provided me not only with an accurate account of his service but were a launching off point to research his regiment through war diaries (see the next post Journey # 32 for more details on that).

My First Family History Book: Distribution & Reactions

True to form, Staples came through for me (they have never let me down but neither have the other quick printers for that matter). The books were printed and bound and ready for pick up on the SundayR before Christmas. My siblings, niece and nephews were all receiving hard copies. (Cousins received electronic copies on CD later.)

I wrapped the books and packaged them for shipping Sunday evening and was at the post-office when it opened at 8 am on Monday morning. The Canadian-destined parcels would be delivered before Christmas, but I was warned the out-of-country one would probably not make it — and it didn’t, arriving on December 29, which was the first business day after Christmas that year.

I’m sure it won’t surprise many genealogists to know that the book received mixed reactions. Some family members were thrilled and fascinated, devouring every word and image. Others were curious, but only enough for a cursory browse. 

The genealogists who’ve seen it, love it, however, and are much more appreciative of the effort that went into it than any of my family members ever could be (not understanding the work involved). They also helped prepare me for the reactions. One genealogist said, “Don’t expect your family members to have any concept of the work that went into this.” 

Others said, “I hope your relatives appreciate what you’ve done.” As I wrote above, some did but others probably did not. 

An unexpected outcome from my first family history book is how it inspires other genealogists. I use it at writing workshops to show what come from genealogy research. Workshop participants often take photographs of the book, which really surprised me.  

For me, the printed book represented a year of my spare time — in research, writing and design — and is a source of pride and accomplishment. I will update it one day with new research, and I have several other books planned. Those, however, I intend to do more slowly.

My First Family History Book: Production

The book was eventually laid out, but Christmas was fast approaching. I had only a week to get it printed, bound and mailed since not one person it was going to lived in my town (and one was even in a different country). 

As mentioned earlier, I had checked various online printing services, but none could produce the book in time to have it delivered before Christmas, and the prices were outrageous (typically around $100 per book based on the 100 pages I had in mine). So I visited the three major quick printers in Victoria: Fotoprint; Island Blueprint’s Printorium; and Staples Copy Centre. 

I spent my day off looking at the options each offered and getting quotes. The pricing from all three was similar but none could produce a printed hard cover as I had imagined for my book. They could all do a printed soft cover, but I wanted the final book to be similar to an old-style photo album and those have hard covers. 

Suggestions from the print shops were: a) bind with a hard back and a soft clear front (mylar sheet) that showed the title page beneath; or b) bind with a hard front and back, then print a large label to stick on the front. Neither of these was ideal. I was disappointed, and went home to reconsider my options. Again, I got online and searched for a solution. And then I found the solution. I noticed that some of the books produced by online services that were advertised as ‘hard cover didn’t actually have printing on the cover. Instead they had an opening that showed through to words printed inside. 

What if the hard front cover on my book had a cut-out in the middle that showed the words from the title page through the opening? What if the opening in the cover acted as a frame around the book’s title as it appeared on the inside page? But how to accomplish that. Obviously the services were having covers made to their specifications. I couldn’t do that, but I knew I could buy picture-framing mat boards with a cut-out. I went immediately to an art supply store. They had 8 ½ x 11 boards with pre-cut openings on the shelf in black or white. I chose black. Interestingly, they had no solid boards for the back cover on the shelf. They could, however, (for a small fee) cut matching boards for me. I bought a dozen mat boards with cutouts (for the fronts) and a dozen without cutouts (for the backs) as I planned to have 12 books printed.

The next step was to re-design the title page to ensure the words fit into the mat board opening. At this point I should have had the whole book proofed and copy-edited, but I had run out of time. During the few days between completion and printing, I had a friend do a quick proof of the book. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time for a full copy-edit, and I have since found numerous typos and mistakes. As it was, by the time the writing and layout were completed, it was the Friday before Christmas, which was the following Thursday (this was 2014). 

Then, because the local business quick print shops are closed on the weekend, my choice of printer was decided for me: Staples it was. On Friday evening, I saved the file as a high-resolution PDF (150 MB), copied it to a flash drive and took it to Staples along with the pre-purchased mat board covers — thank goodness Staples is open until 9 pm most nights. 

The Staples copy clerk was reluctant to promise successful spiral binding with the hard mat boards, but I knew it was possible. I had to sign a waiver acknowledging that if something went wrong during the binding process, the shop was not responsible for damage to my supplied covers nor to the pages they were printing for binding.

My First Family History Book: Fonts & White Space

For my family history book, I was able to rely on the insider publishing knowledge I had about white space (make sure there’s lots), font readability and other tricks of the trade. For example, making the font larger doesn’t necessarily make it easier to read if the text is crowded on the page. Large fonts also tend to look less professional. 

For a polished page but better readability, it’s best to use a smaller font (9 to 12 points) but make the space between the lines larger than whatever the default ‘normal’ is set to in the word processing application. Books and magazines typically use a 9 1/2-point font but make the line spacing about 14 points high. I prefer to use a percentage for line spacing rather than a set point. Using a percentage for line spacing meant that if I changed the size of the font, the line spacing would change automatically as well. I played around with the fonts and in the end, I decided on a 10-point font on a 1.2 percent line spacing. 

And since the book would be read in print rather than online, I chose a serif font rather than non-serif. Serif fonts are almost always used for the printing of large blocks of text — such as those in books, magazines and newspapers. The serifs help the eye distinguish the letters more quickly. However, those same serifs can blur or look fuzzy on a computer screen, so san-serif fonts are better for online reading. 

This all sounds complicated, but I applied ‘styles’ throughout the book to make it easier. Each style was named for its use and had all the options set for font name, text size, line spacing, and indents. I had one style for Chapter Headings, another for Body Text, a third for Image Captions and so on. After I typed (or copied in) text, I applied the appropriate style. This use of styles made tweaking a breeze. For example, if I decided to reduce the line spacing or increase the font size, I made that change to the style rather than to the text. The moment the style was altered, all text in the document that had that style applied to it, instantly changed to reflect the new setting.  

My First Family History Book: Design Elements

Since I work on a range of documents through my job, I have high-level layout skills and knew I could do the layout of my family history book myself, including tricky designs. At work I use Windows machines but at home I use a Mac. I wasn’t as familiar with design on the Mac as I was using Microsoft Office, so I experimented in MS Word and Publisher after work at the office. 

But the weekend came and I was anxious to continue so I began playing around with Mac Pages. I found the Mac to be missing a few features from Word that I wanted, but discovered other features that I really liked. There was a steep learning curve, but I already had a strong foundation and lots of knowledge. In the end I was glad I did it on the Mac because the finished design is really beautiful — even with several work-arounds because of missing features. 

One of the design elements in my books that appears tricky but is actually quite simple is placement of photographs. Many of the photographs overlap each other or are angled on the page. This is done by ‘floating’ the images. In MS Word, double-clicking on the image will bring up a dialog box that provides a huge range of settings. The default is ‘In Line with Text,” but that can be changed to place the image in front of text, behind text, etc. In Mac Pages, these setting are available through the Inspector. The ‘Object Placement’ option lets you set the image to Inline, Floating, and In Background. The ‘Object causes wrap’ options let me set how the image affected the text around it. Experimenting with these provided the positioning and effects I wanted.

The Mac also had a default border option that appeared to be old style photo corners — which was exactly what I wanted for my images. Had I chosen to complete the book in MS Word, I’d have had to figure out a way to get the same effect with clip art over or under-lays. I used other design elements as well, including shadows on images that created a three-dimension look to give the impression that they were in a photo album.

My First Family History Book: Format Decisions

The most difficult part of the layout & design process for my family history was deciding what my book would look like. For inspiration, I viewed numerous family history books on the shelves at the Victoria Genealogical Society. I also did a Google search for electronic versions of genealogy books that were available online to use as examples. I made notes and took screenshots of the things I liked and gradually a plan formed in my mind and I knew what I wanted. 

I envisioned my relatives sitting the book on their laps and flipping through it the way we did as children with my parents’ photo albums — the horizontal ones with photos inserted using glue-on corners. A horizontal layout would also allow larger display of documents such as census reports and birth, death and marriage certifications, which all tend to be wide. 

I’d heard there were online services that would produce a book, so I reviewed the sites and their options (and prices). I was disappointed by the choices and the costs. First, the layout options weren’t what I wanted. Second, for the amount of content I had, I suspected the book could be around 100 pages. A book that size on the sites I visited would cost about $100 for each copy — ouch! Also, based on the time it was taking to do the book, printing and delivery from the online service would not be completed in the time I had left. I knew I could do it in time and for far less money if I did all the work myself and had it printed locally.  

Keeping the costs low meant sticking with standardized paper and avoiding bleeds. ‘Bleeds’ are images that go right to the edge of the paper, which requires special printing and trimming. To save money, bleeds and non-standard paper were out. 

But from previous projects, I knew that to get the feel of a horizontal photo album, all I had to do was use a landscape layout of 8 ½ x 11 pages (technically 11 x 8 ½). However, I also knew that with a wide format like that, the pages should be two columns (if not three). Why? Because one wide column is difficult to read. Every time a reader moves his or her head, there is a loss of flow. Even having to shift one’s eyes can cause mental distraction (and eventually fatigue). The reason newspapers and magazines have text in narrow columns is to avoid readers having to move their heads to finish a line. These are things I learned in the course of my career over many years and could apply to my family history book. 

My First Family History Book: Content

Once I decided that it was time to produce a family history book, I stopped researching and spent every spare minute preparing material for the book. Some of the family biographies had already been written for my blog but needed updating and/or editing. Some had not been written yet and had to be done from scratch. When writing the biographies, I apply a range of journalistic techniques including building context, applying themes and adding colour.

The word context means the circumstances that form or surround an event and help others understand and/or relate. Context = setting, conditions and events. Setting could be the time, place or culture or a combination of two or three of those. Conditions could be political, economic or religious. Events could include wars, social movements or even inventions or advancements in science or medicine. Adding context is one of the easiest ways to fill out a biography because information is usually available on the Internet.

A theme is a unifying idea that focuses the story and helps the reader relate to the subject. To find a theme, I look for patterns in my subject’s life. What do I notice repeating: hardship, entrepreneurial spirit, loss, love? Once I’ve found a theme, I use specific words to communicate the concept to the reader. I select words to give an impression or trigger an emotional response. By incorporating carefully chosen words and phrases, I can influence my reader’s reaction to the story. 

Colour in writing = descriptions and details that involve the senses: sights, sounds, scents, tastes, and textures. These can come from physical appearance, locations, occupations, weather, or even cooking & eating. To add colour, I look at the subject’s life for an occupation or specific location. I search out historical records about the climate or weather, typical diet and other aspects of daily life, then include those in the story.

It took about two weeks to complete the writing, but that was only the beginning.

Once all the copy was written, I needed illustrations. As a professional communicator, I know how important illustrations are to bringing written material to life. So the next step was scanning family photographs. Again, some had already been scanned for other reasons, but some had not and that took time and experimentation with resolutions and format — for example, TIFs give the best detail when scanned, but the files are large and make the book’s file size huge. JPGs are more reasonably sized but don’t provide the same level of detail. For photographs and documents that were large and clear, I went with JPGs. For those that were small or of poor quality, TIFs were the better choice. I knew that the file size of the final document was going to be big and in the end it was more than 150 MB. 

I had census reports, newspaper articles and directory listings downloaded from genealogy sites. These I cropped to show only the relevant information. I also had birth, death and marriage certificates ordered from government registries, which I scanned and cropped. 

When I ran out of my own material, I looked to other sources. I used Google Streetview to take screenshots of houses where my ancestors lived that still exist today. Wikimedia Commons provided old photographs (that are in the public domain) related to ancestors’ occupations. I found photographs of gravestones and locations at other sites. 

With the illustrations waiting in a folder on my computer, I moved on to layout & design.

My First Family History Book: Initiation

For Christmas 2014, I produced a book to give to my family members as gifts. The process was all consuming for the few weeks it took to edit, lay out and print, and I was too busy doing it to write about it at the time. But it was suggested to me during a biography writing workshop I was giving at the Victoria Genealogical Society recently that others might learn from my process. So here it is!

I knew that one day I would want to create a book for my family that contained all the genealogy research and biographies I was posting to my family history blog. The question was, when should that happen? As any genealogist knows, family history research can go on forever and is never really ‘finished.’ So I put it out of my head for most of the first year while researching my father’s family. Instead I posted stories to the blog as time permitted, but conscious that one day, way off in the future, I would produce a book of some kind.

Then in November of that year, one of my siblings told me she preferred to read things in hard copy rather than online and was considering printing pages from my website, punching holes in them and putting them into a binder. She also said she wanted to take the information with her to visit relatives over the holidays and didn’t want to use a laptop for this. 

I realized immediately that I didn’t want my research presented to others in the format she was describing. As a journalist and corporate communicator who has produced many books and documents through my various jobs, this was sacrilege. I suggested she wait and I would try to come up with something before Christmas. It was less than six weeks until December 25. 

Could I pull something together and get it printed in time to send to my family to arrive before Christmas? Did I mention that unlike many genealogists, I am not retired and still have a day job?

Journey # 30: Debunking the Black Irish Myth

Originally published in The Victoria Genealogical Society's Journal Winter 2016 edition. 

I was well into my genealogy research when I heard the term Black Irish for the first time. It came to me through the family grapevine in relation to one of my great-grandmothers. Having not heard the expression before, I asked what it meant. The answer, “from gypsy stock,” implied that my great-grandmother was of a lower caste than other Irish.

Now, I have no delusions of grandeur about my family and would happily add the Black Irish moniker to my great-grandmother if it were true and especially if it came with a good story. So I did what modern genealogists do when confronted with new information—I turned to the Internet. 

My searches brought up numerous articles referencing ‘Black Irish,’ but I was surprised to find that the descriptor was not as straightforward as I had been lead to believe. In fact, its origins and meaning were uncertain and controversial.

One site stated, “The term 'black Irish' refers to Irish people with black/dark hair, generally—but not always—dark eye colour, stout build and complexions that tan, as opposed to freckle/burn in the sun.”1

Some websites I found reported that the label did, indeed, relate to gypsies. But others claimed that the Black Irish were the product of Spanish sailors who landed on the island’s shores after the Armada sinking. Then, to my surprise, I discovered another explanation that insisted Black Irish were descendants of Africans who had made their way to the Emerald Isle centuries ago.

The implication of any of these is that dark colouring had been brought into Ireland by outsiders. Therefore, anyone with dark hair and complexion must be descended from those outsiders and were not truly Irish. It would then follow that those who had lighter hair and complexions must be the true Irish and, by default, superior.
Further research, however, began to cast doubts on all explanations. More than one website described the meaning and origin of Black Irish as “murky.” (At least two sites actually used the word murky.) 

For example, the Spanish Armada connection is quickly debunked by most historians. Apparently records show that so few Spanish sailors survived on Irish shores that it would have been impossible to affect the colouring of a whole group of people. It would also not explain why dark hair was pervasive in Ireland long before the Armada.2

The gypsy connection is also put into doubt with research. While many outside of Ireland use the terms gypsies and travellers interchangeably, Irish travellers have no proven relation to true Romani gypsies outside of living similar nomadic lifestyles. Gypsies originated in India and arrived in Europe in the 15th century. Ireland has had travellers for much longer. 

In 2011, the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and the University of Edinburgh conducted a study of the DNA of Irish Travellers. The Irish Examiner reported, “The first DNA analysis of the Travelling community has proven that it is a distinct ethnic minority who separated from the settled community between 1,000 and 2,000 years ago...”3 This is hundreds of years before Romani gypsies were known in Europe.

The connection to Africa is also discredited with research done on modern Irish genetics. The results of one DNA study showed “the closest genetic relatives of the Irish in Europe are to be found in the north of Spain in the region known as the Basque Country.” So those who had their hearts set on a Spanish connection can look to Spain even if the Armada story hasn’t panned out as expected. 

But Irish scientists recently studied ancient bones and determined through DNA that, “The ancestors of the Stone Age farmers [in Ireland] began their journey in the Bible lands… They brought with them cattle, cereals, ceramics and a tendency to black hair and brown eyes.”4

Science is proving that those who have dark hair have earlier roots (no pun intended) in Ireland and are truer Irish than those with lighter hair. Fair hair and complexion was likely brought in by the Vikings and other late-comers. 

So how did Black Irish become such an unfavourable appellation? It is perplexing especially since the term is not common in Ireland and has no historical foundation. Browsing dozens of books on Irish history turned up not one reference to ‘Black Irish’ in the indexes. A search of library catalogues and online bookstores shows several books titled Black Irish, but they are all fiction. In fact, the only reference I could find to Black Irish being used in Ireland was that Catholics in Ulster Province employed it as a disparaging way to describe the Protestants.5

This lack of historical reference indicates that the concept of Black Irish is not significant to Irish history nor to a specific group and probably developed outside of the country. Deeper research supports that the expression may have originated in North America. 
One suggestion was that because Irish immigrants were looked down on in America, Scottish immigrants tried to set themselves apart. One way to do this was to convince others that fair-hair and freckles (which the Scots tended to have) was preferred to the darker hair and complexion of many Irish. 

Another explanation is that it had nothing to do with hair or skin colour.

In an essay titled, “The Myth of the Black Irish, the author writes, “…its origin lies in borrowing the color of the reason for the flood of Irish immigrants into the USA in the 19th-century—flight from the Black Blight—the Potato Famine of Black '47…”6

Ireland Calling Back suggests the idea of Black Irish originated in Great Britain links it to Irish immigration. The website proposes the term stems from a general dislike and mistrust by the English of the Irish and suggests, “…the British labelling the Irish ‘Black’ as a description of their supposed sinister and underhand characteristics.”7

One website explained, “The true origin of this term might never be known. Its uses and meanings vary so widely that it might have been created in different places and at different times for different reasons.”8

I am inclined to believe the above statement and to support the Urban Dictionary’s sentiment, “Most of the stories about the black Irish are myths. They are just people of Irish descent. Not all Irishmen have red hair and freckles.”9

End Notes
  1. “Who are the Black Irish?,” Quora, (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  2. “Who were the Black Irish?,” Ireland Information (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  3. “DNA study: Travellers a distinct ethnicity,” The Irish Examiner, (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  4. “DNA shows Irish people have more complex origins than previously thought,” Sons of the Times, (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  5. “Who were the Black Irish and what is their story?” Irish Central, (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  6. “The Myth of the Black Irish,” Dark Fiber, (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  7. “Who were the Black Irish?,” Ireland Calling Back, (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  8. “What is Black Irish?,” Wise Geek, (last accessed 1 February 2016)
  9. “Black Irish,” Urban Dictionary, (last accessed 1 February 2016)

Journey # 29: Are family legends complete fabrications or based in truth? The Dick Turpin Case

I've mentioned before that everything my father told me about our family has (so far) proved to be true — and surprisingly accurate in its truth, although it may not have been what I expected.

One of my father's stories was that our Yorkshire family had a connection to highwayman Dick Turpin. But it turns out that Turpin wasn't born in Yorkshire, although he was hanged there in 1739 as a horse thief. As soon as I read that he was born in the London/Essex area, I discounted the story completely. 

But recently, I reached the early 1700s in my Yorkshire family research and began exploring my ancestors, their family names and their locations for that time period. 

Much of our family tree has roots in Yorkshire, mostly in Leeds but also in smaller communities including Rothwell, Castleford, and Aberford. Aberford is between Leeds and the city of York and was on the road that led from London to Edinburgh. In fact, Aberford was considered the half-way point on the 'highway' between the two cities. That highway was where Dick Turpin would have been carrying out his thefts, so he may have been stopping in towns along the way, including Aberford, when my ancestors lived. He also lived in Yorkshire for a couple of years and so may have spent time in any of the towns where relatives were. Based on that, many members of our family could have certainly met or had some connection to Dick Turpin.

In addition, in the history of Turpin and his capture and trial, similar names appear to some of the ones in our family tree. Remember that few people could read or write so names were fluid and were written as they sounded and often changed slightly from person to person in the same family depending on how they pronounced the name. Palmer, which was used as an alias by Richard (Dick) Turpin while he lived in Yorkshire in the mid 1700s, is similar to Palmerly, which appears in our family tree in the 1700s in nearby Durham.

But Dad's story may have come from the fact that a person named Elisabeth Collit/Collet (that surname recently appeared in our tree from the 1700s) married a man named Richard Turpin in Yorkshire in 1737. 

Interestingly, 1737 is the same year that Dick Turpin escaped from London to Yorkshire to avoid capture. 

It is very likely that this is a different Richard Turpin, although it is easy to see how the story may have developed. But I am reminded that again my father's story has proved to be true — someone in our family did marry Dick Turpin. It just wasn't the famous Dick Turpin (as far as I know). 

Journey # 28: Mind the Gap

Filling out families is something I do when I am stumped on direct ancestor research, but it is also an important part of genealogy. Discovering all the members of a family group can help determine locations and occupations that can identify ancestors in other records or lead to specific lines of inquiry. 

Sometimes it is easy to find family members in records. Census records show all the members of household with their names, ages, occupations and places of birth. By compiling the information from census records, a family framework is built. 

But censuses were typically taken every 10 years, and a lot can happen in 10 years. The family might have moved several times in those years and you’d never know it from the census. A man could have several different jobs or occupations. It is also possible that children were born and died during that decade and you’d never know they existed because they never appear in a census. 

So how do you know if you have missing children from your family group? The easiest way is to look at the gaps. Before birth control, births occurred on a fairly regular basis, typically every couple of years. So if you see a long gap between births, then a red flag should be raised. 

There are really only two reasons for these gaps. One is that the husband was away, possibly working or in the military. The other, and more likely, reason is that at least one child was born and died that you are unaware of. 

I had one or more gaps for each of my family groups. For two of them, the reason was, indeed, that the husband was away. The Boer War and World War I were the culprits. But for the others, lost children was almost always the guilty party. 

Searching genealogy databases was, for me, however, not the solution to filling out these gaps. The names, as I've mentioned numerous times, were just too common, and the records incomplete. Without at least one parent name and/or an address there was simply no way to determine if any of the children were related to me. 

Enter burial records. 

I was fortunate to find an online group called the Yorkshire Indexers, which has compiled information from all the cemeteries in the Leeds area and created subscription-based databases. For a small fee, a membership in this group provided me with access to a searchable index of cemetery records, both civil and parish, and data from the actual burial registers. 

I had two particularly perplexing gaps in my Patrick Connell family group from 1872 to 1877 and from 1878 to 1885. A search by Connell turned up hundreds of burials in Leeds cemeteries for people with that surname. But by browsing the list by the family gap periods and then for those who died as children (the age at death was shown in the search results), I narrowed that down to a reasonable number. Looking at the record for each of the likely children helped me identify three previously unknown offspring who had died between the censuses: Catherine (1872-1878), Michael (1878-1878) and Elizabeth (1881-1881). 

While Family Search, Ancestry and Find My Past did not have the parent’s name or residential address in the death records, the Yorkshire Indexers did, taken from the cemetery register files. With that information, it was easy to discover which children fit into my family group. I also accidentally ran across a child born out of wedlock to one the girls in my family group, an unexpected bonus (for me and probably for her too). 

Small databases, such as the Yorkshire Indexers, are proving themselves just as valuable as the big ones in my research.

Journey # 27: Micro-films = Macro-frustration (so far)

To date I’ve ordered seven microfilms from Salt Lake City. They are ordered online from LDS’s Family Search website, cost about $8 each (which covers shipping) and arrive at my local Family History Centre within a few weeks. 

I’d been told by other researchers that often the films have never been indexed so is not online at all or there is more information on the film than what has been indexed. Sometimes this information can lead to a breakthrough. So after nearly a year of researching, I decided to take a chance on microfilm — even though the idea of using a microfilm reader brought back nightmares of pre-Internet research.

So I went through my records and found that I had one government birth record but no baptism record online — yet there was a film for the parish records of the correct time period. For others, the online baptism records had only basic information and no document images. I had noticed that parish records that had an image attached, in most cases the image had information that hadn’t been transcribed. Sometimes it was an occupation or an address, but sometimes it was an important name. So I decided to take a chance and start ordering films. 

Following are the results of the films I've viewed so far:
  1. The first film had not been transcribed and the records were not online. I had a civil birth records and assumed there was a corresponding baptism record. found the baptism records I was looking for and it provided a residential location (townland in Ireland) and the names of birth sponsors, like God parents. The location has added to my search criteria but has not actually led to an definitive information. I also checked the film for other family members, and while I found a few records for people with the same name, there was no way to connect them.
  2. On the second film there was no more information than what was in the transcribed online record.
  3. The third film had a residential location that turned out to be a large neighbourhood rather than an actual street, so not super helpful.
  4. The fourth film had no more information than what was in the transcribed online record.
  5. On the fifth film there was an occupation for the father in a baptism record.
  6. The sixth film had no more information that what was in the transcribed record online, and that was for multiple ancestors.

The machine readers at my local Family History Centre can't print at the moment, so the only way to get a copy of what is on a film is to take a photograph of it or write the information down. The first time I discovered this, luckily I had my iPhone, but there were others there with no smart phones or cameras. One time I took photos for another researcher and emailed them to her. I understand that the machines in Salt Lake City can not only print, but have other features including zoom. That would certainly be helpful, if only I could found valuable information to zoom in on. 

Journey # 26: For Posterity’s Sake

In a box of papers I inherited from my father, I found his basic military service record from his time in the navy. This was a document that they’d have issued to him when he signed up and that would have followed him through his service until he left the navy in 1946. It was made of a heavy flexible paper that felt almost like linen fabric. The document listed, in chronological order, all the ships and shore stations he’d been assigned to along with training and promotions.

As part of my genealogy research, I began browsing military history websites to search for the different ships to find photographs and information about them. In the process I came across a site called "For Posterity’s Sake" (

The person who created this site was attempting to build a record of Canadian navy service personnel and match them to the ships they served on. It seemed like a monumental undertaking, but it appeared to have only recently been launched and already had quite a bit of information on it.

I thought that the founder might be able to help me understand my father’s service history, so I sent him a scan of the document. He replied with an explanation of which were ships and which were shore stations. This was very helpful information since I’d been unable to identify a few of names and didn’t realize they were shore stations.

He asked if he could publish the service record along with a photograph and obituary of my father. He wrote that he would link my father’s record on his site with all the ships he’d served on. It appears here: CPO James Edward Lowe

He then asked if I had any photographs or other memorabilia that I could share related to my father's navy service. Well, I had a small box full, most of which I couldn’t identify, but a few had captions.

So I scanned all the pictures that identified the ship or the location or the date and emailed them. He thanked me for each photo I sent and seemed very excited by a few of them, which he told me were rare or even unique. Apparently service personnel were prohibited from taking photos during military campaigns so there were often no visual records of these activities. I also scanned a few cards and emailed those too. 

On this Remembrance Day, it's nice to see my father on this website and know that he won't be forgotten. I hope that For Posterity's Sake accomplishes its goal and can be a memorial for many more Canadian navy personnel. They certainly deserve it.

Journey # 25: How Assumptions Can Slow Down Research

One set of my great-great-grandparents, Patrick Connell and Bridget McHale, were from Ireland. I knew from the census that they were both born in Ireland: Patrick in county Galway and Bridget in county Mayo. I also knew from the census that their first child, Mary, was born in county Mayo, Ireland in February 1866, but that their second child was born in England in 1867. From this, I concluded that they’d met and married in Ireland, probably in Mayo, had their first child there and then moved to England.

Under that assumption, I searched for a marriage registration for them in Irish records, but came up empty. Civil registration began in Ireland in 1864, so if they married in 1864 or 1865, they’d have been in the records. They weren’t. Since they did not appear, I made the assumption that they married prior to 1864.

As marriage certificates typically show the father’s name and occupation for both the bride and the groom, a marriage document is one of the best ways to get information on the previous generation. An alternate way is to find the individuals living with their parents in the census records before they married. However, the census records for Ireland in the 1800s have been destroyed. 

Without either of those records, I had no way of discovering who Patrick’s or Bridget’s parents were. I had to essentially give up on that line of the family.

But I could not give up, and over the next few months I tried many different ideas attempting to learn their parents’ names. I looked at anything and everything available online in hope of finding a hint about their lives in Ireland before they went to England. But alas, I found nothing concrete. Connell and McHale are common names in Ireland and so are Patrick and Bridget.

I even ordered microfilm from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Salt Lake City. The film had Roman Catholic church records for a range of parishes in County Mayo Ireland, including Ballycastle, which is the district where daughter Mary was born. I knew that's where Mary was born because of the one single solitary Irish record I'd found in online databases for the family. I was fortunate that the film did actually have Mary’s baptism record, albeit nearly unreadable. With help from others I eventually identified the local area listed where the birth took place as Glenulra, and the sponsors shown on the baptism were probably John or Wm Mathews and Margaret Mathews. I guessed that Margaret Mathews might be Bridget’s married sister.

But the microfilm did not have parish marriage records for the time period. My guess is that the book they were in was lost or destroyed by the time the researchers came to film the parish documents. So, while I had a tiny bit more information from the baptism record, again I was stymied on finding their parents’ names.

At that point, however, it occurred to me that the one single solitary Irish record I'd found was a civil birth registration. If there was a birth registry record for Mary, might there also be an actual birth certificate? I went to the Irish government website and found how to order a birth certificate online. It was a little more expensive than English certificates, but not unreasonably so (about $32 Canadian with international postage and exchange rate at the time). There were indications on the site that not all registry records had corresponding certificates, but I decided to take a chance. I filled out the form and put in my credit card information with my fingers crossed.

The confirmation message I received said that if a certificate existed, it would be mailed within five days. If there was no certificate, I would be contacted. I held my breath for the next few days waiting for the email that would tell me there was no record. But to my surprise, it did not come.

Instead, less than 10 days after I put in my order, again to my surprise (and joy), Mary’s birth certificate was delivered to my house.

But the surprises did not stop there. On that certificate, the residence shown for Patrick Connell was Leeds. I had to shake my head a couple of time to loosen the previous assumptions about them moving to England after Mary's birth and let this new solid information sink in. My assumptions had been completely wrong. Patrick’s residence was Leeds? How can this be? If the couple already lived in Leeds, what was Bridget doing giving birth in Ireland? Had they simply gone back to Ireland for a visit? Was there a death in the family or some other event that they were attending?

I couldn't answer any of those questions, but the next question I could answer with one online search. If they were living in Leeds at the time of Mary's birth, had they also been married there instead of Ireland? England’s civil registration goes back to 1837, and based on their ages the earliest they could have married was around 1860. If they were married in England, there would be a record.

I quickly took up the search and had my first real break in this genealogical case when I found a marriage record for Patrick Connell and Bridget McHale in Leeds in 1865. Of course, I ordered a copy of the corresponding marriage certificate immediately and am again holding my breath waiting for it to arrive and for the names and occupations of Patrick's and Bridget's fathers that it should contain.

Journey # 24: When Death is Only the Beginning

I’d initially had a frustrating experience with death records, but it’s amazing what a little distance will do. I left the search for death records behind and moved on to other avenues of research. But I knew that one day I would need to come back to them. After a few weeks I decided it should be sooner rather than later. 

I opened up my GRAMPS genealogy application and browsed the list of ancestors I had accumulated. Almost all had a guess in the death field. I really only knew the death dates of the most recent couple of generations.

I chose someone at random and went online in search of a death date. There were several possibilities in the records for this one person. This was, of course, the same issue I’d struggled with the first time. So I decided to use my instincts. I studied the choices and determined which was the most likely. But how could I know for sure? If there had only been one record, then I could feel confident I had the right one. But with three possible records, what were my options? The most obvious was to order a copy of the death certificate from the United Kingdom and hope that my instincts were correct. So that’s exactly what I did. 

Afterward, worried about wasting money on a document that might be wrong, I checked the exchange rate. The cost of a certificate from GRO was 9.25 GBP, so I put that into a currency converter and was surprised to discover that it worked out to be only about $16.50 in Canadian dollars that day. If I was wrong, I’d be losing the price of a restaurant lunch. But if it were right, I might gain some valuable information that I’d not be able to get anywhere else.

Suddenly I was ordering death certificates all over the place. So far I've ordered eight, and as they gradually arrived in the mail one by one, I found that they were all correct. My instincts had served me well. 

I've already discovered an unknown child of an ancestor because of the death certificate. She was the informant on the document and listed as my great-grandmother's daughter. Yet I didn't recognize her at all. At first I assumed I must have the wrong document, but the address was correct. So I went to the Internet and discovered that she had been born after the last census record I had available. Without that death certificate, I couldn't know she existed, but I found her birth record and the parents were my ancestors. 

At their least, these death certificates will help me close the life records of my ancestors, but there is always the possibility that they will lead to new information otherwise hidden.

Journey # 23: Instincts and Surprises

On the 1891 census, my great-great grandparents, Patrick and Bridget Connell, had a 16-month-old girl named Mary living in their household. She was listed as ‘daughter’ but I was suspicious. Their next child up in the chain was 8 years old, and while Bridget wasn’t definitely too old to be having a child that young herself, I had the feeling it wasn’t hers.

Their first child had been named Mary and there was no indication that she had died nor was there any indication of a family tradition of having multiple children named Mary. The couple had several children old enough to be having children of their own, at least two of which had moved out already and were probably married by then. I suspected that young Mary belonged to one of them and happened to be staying with her grandparents during the census.

In the next census in 1901, young Mary would have been 11 but didn’t appear in Patrick & Bridget Connell’s household. I hoped that she had not died and that she had, in fact, returned to her own parents, whomever they were. However, when I tracked the other children, she did not appear in any of their households. If she didn’t belong to one of them, then maybe she was Patrick & Bridget’s?

So I searched for her birth certificate under the assumption that her last name was Connell — and there was a Mary Connell born at the correct time. But this just caused me more concern. I was so sure that she was a granddaughter, but all of Patrick & Bridget's older children were female, which means that if she were a grandchild, she should have been born with a different last name (the married daughter's name).

My instincts told me that she was a granddaughter so much that I wondered if the Mary Connell I found in the birth record was her at all. And I had to know for sure, so I ordered the birth certificate. When the document arrived, I knew immediately that it was for the Mary Connell who appeared in the census in Patrick & Bridget’s household, and I was also correct in my assumption that she was a granddaughter rather than a daughter. But imagine my surprise when I saw the mother’s name. It was Margaret Connell, the only daughter who wasn’t married at the time of the census. Margaret, my great-grandmother, had this child out of wedlock, and they were both living with Margaret’s parents in 1891.

But when it came to young Mary, each question that was answered led to a new question. What happened to her? Margaret married in 1893 and began having children with her husband in 1894. She was with this family in the 1901 census and there was no Mary. Had she given her up for adoption? Possibly, but why would she have kept her for 16 months and then given her up then? Had he husband-to-be objected to taking in a child that was not his (or was it his, for all I knew?).

But I am a believer in the principle of Occam's Razor, which reasons that the simplest answer is usually the correct one. And in the 1890s, the most likely cause for a child to disappear from the records is death, so I turned to death records. I found a Mary Connell in the death records for the same year as the census where Mary first appeared to me, and her age matched. Young Mary, the love child, had not survived 1891.

I had come full circle on Mary Connell’s life, and it was a small circle. The child born out of wedlock, who was obviously loved enough by the family to keep in spite of the scandal that might have resulted, had died. But my instincts had been confirmed even if the mother turned out to be a complete surprise in the end.

Journey # 22: Turning Lead into Gold with Knowledge

I'm not a packrat. I don’t hold on to things that have no obvious usefulness unless they are very, very special. But thankfully my mother was a keeper of things. As a result, when she died she left several boxes of photos, cards, documents, and souvenirs.

My father had a touch of packrat in him too, but in his later years, after downsizing twice, he simply didn't have the space to hang on to everything. He did, however, keep his military papers and photographs as well as pictures and documents that had been important to his parents.

I was lucky to acquire these after my parents were gone, my siblings deciding that if anyone were going to do something with them one day, it would be me.

I have met genealogists who have more family material than what I have, and I have met those who have less. I have also met some who have nothing at all, so I know I am fortunate. I believe it is a privilege to be the curator of my family archive, but I also feel obligated to preserve the stories of my ancestors so they do not disappear into oblivion.

As keeper of this collection, I have always cherished it, even if I didn’t know what to do with it until now. I knew the items had value as keepsakes, but before I was well into my genealogy journey, I had no idea how valuable they were for research.

Some of these materials had obvious genealogical worth: marriage certificates, army I.D. cards, immigration documents, and so on.

But for others, their value only became apparent as research progressed. Even though I had looked at everything several times in the past, revisiting each and every item with new-found knowledge allowed them to shine as they hadn’t before.

A photo signed “To my darling daughter Bell” only indicated the subjects were my great grandparents once I discovered from old correspondence that Bell was my grandmother’s nickname.

A funeral card provided the death date and burial place for a person I would never have know was my great-great grandfather if online records hadn't shown me who he was.

A letter that hinted at a place in Scotland where my ancestors were from had no meaning before I began questioning my rumoured Scottish roots.

A uniformed man in a photo was unidentifiable until I learned from an ordered marriage certificate that my great-grandfather was serving in the 3rd Dragoon Guards at the time of his wedding in 1875.

Ignorance can prevent one from seeing the true beauty and lustre of an item. Research removes the layers of obscurity to expose the importance of the information. Even a little knowledge can turn a researcher into an alchemist, transforming seemingly worthless items into genealogical gold. I now know I must revisit these treasures again and again so new-found information can be applied to reveal their full value and let their brilliance shine. True alchemy in my books.

Journey # 21: A Genealogical Gold Nugget

Everyone knows that documents are the key to tracing ancestors. But family photos play a significant role in genealogy research too. Not only do they provide images of ancestors and of locations, but they often have information on the back that can be very useful. Comments such as “My son Arthur and his wife” can help narrow down a family by providing the name of a child. “In front of our house in Scarborough” can tell you where a family lived.

I had family photos and a few had notes on the back like that. But I also knew that my sister had acquired some photos, and even though I thought I had seen everything she had, I decided to ask her one more time if she had anything that would help my research. She too believed that I had seen it all, but when I asked specifically if she had anything from our grandparents, she suddenly remembered a small box. She said it was a gift box from our grandmother’s house and that it contained family photographs. I asked if she could bring it with her the next time she visited.

When I finally got my hands on it, I carefully reviewed each item. Mostly there were small photographs taken of the family as we grew up. There were also some pictures that had been sent from relatives overseas that had names or places on the back, which I knew might be helpful. But the item that caught my attention during the first pass through was a small card, about the size of a small photo or of a business card. On one side was the photograph of a cemetery with the name Killingbeck. I had no idea what it meant until I turned it over. On the back was printed:
Patrick Connell 
Who died December 4, 1907 
Interred at Killingbeck Cemetery December 7, 1907 

It was my great-great grandfather's funeral card. Not only did it provide his exact date of death, something unknown to me before, but it showed me the cemetery where he was buried. This is invaluable information as it is likely that other members of the family are buried in the same cemetery.

I searched online and found a forum called Yorkshire Indexers, where photographs of the gravestones at Killingbeck Cemetery had been posted. It took awhile, but I located the photo of my great-great grandfather’s grave stone. There are numerous people listed on the same stone. Apparently, unless you could afford to buy an individual headstone for your deceased family member, the cemetery waited until a few people had been buried in one area and then erected one stone with all their names on it.

If I hadn’t asked my sister one more time, I may have never found this nugget of information.