bcholmes: (meshes in the afternoon)
2017-04-15 02:17 pm

“We Never Talk About It”

Many months ago, I was looking over some old family photos with my aunt, Janey. There was a woman I didn’t recognize in a few pictures, and on the back of the photo, she was identified as “Beatrice”. “Who was Beatrice?” I asked Janey.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Oh, wait. Maybe she was Ralph’s first wife?”

“Ralph’s first wife?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “We never talk about it.” My family seems to have a lot of stuff that we never talk about.

My father has a brother named Ralph. That’s not who we’re talking about. The Ralph we’re talking about would be my grandfather’s brother, James Ralph Holmes. My grandfather was the youngest of three children. Abbie Estella Holmes was the oldest, but she died at the age of 20, due to complications from pregnancy. Ralph was the middle child, closer in age to Stella. When Ralph came of age in the midst of the great depression, he moved to Detroit to find work. My grandfather, Vidal, ultimately took over the family farm and raised his own children there. Ralph and Vidal both died about a month apart in 1968, shortly before my second birthday.

Beatrice is not, in fact, Ralph’s first wife. I still have no idea who she is. One possibility is that she was a nanny that briefly helped out with child-rearing duties.

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bcholmes: (being dead like me)
2017-02-20 10:53 pm

Giving up the Dead

I’m having an email correspondence with a genealogist in Ireland. I’m looking to hire her to find records on my Holmes ancestors before they came to Canada. It’s been a slow conversation, with a number of delays, but I’m hoping that something will come of it.

But today we were talking about a particular part of the tree, and while looking at my records for that part of the tree, I realized that I’d failed to transcribe some data.

Here’s the story. I’ve mentioned before that the first of my family to come to Canada are Andrew and Susan (Susannah) Holmes, who emigrated here in 1845. I’ve also mentioned that Andrew died in quarantine at Grosse Île, Quebec. But they brought with them six of their seven children, who spread out and several of those kids end up in Lambton County, where I grew up.

So I’m interested in the one that stayed behind, Mary Ann Holmes, born around 1811. She was the oldest of the seven children and she was already married at the time the family moved to Canada (the second oldest, Margaret Holmes, was also married, but she brought her husband along to Canada with her). Some time before 1861, Mary Ann joined the rest of the family in Canada. Her husband, James Dowler, remained in Ireland. The author of Those Irish Holmes’ writes, “‘Tis said he loved the Emerald Isle, the thrill of its strife, and another woman.”

Mary Ann went to Lambton County and moved in with her brother, John Holmes and his wife, Mary Wilkinson. John and Mary only had one kid, but Mary Ann brought five with her. The youngest of those five might have been born in Canada, if the censuses are to be believed. If so, either Mary Ann was pregnant on the ride over, or James Dowler wasn’t the kid’s father. Or the censuses are wrong. This line of the family doesn’t have it easy. Mary Ann’s daughter, Ann Dowler, died in the London Insane Asylum. Her older brother, Thomas, might have also spent some time there.

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bcholmes: (meshes in the afternoon)
2016-12-26 04:08 pm

Revising Those Irish Holmes

I’ve written, before, about the booklet I had as a teenager: Those Irish Holmes’, by F. M. Emerson Holmes. The booklet was a family tree of all the descendants of Andrew and Susan (Susannah) Holmes, who came to Canada from Cavan County, Ireland, in 1845.

A few weeks ago, I got hit with a bit of a genealogy bug after letting it sit for a while and I started finishing up my revision to that booklet. Basically, I’ve tracked down almost all of the original names in the book and updated them with the latest information. Unsurprisingly, in the 35 years since the book was first published a large number of the people documented have since died, including F. M. Emerson himself.

Newer generations are harder to find the details about. Sites like Ancestry don’t share details on anyone marked as still living although you can occasionally find a name in the most recent census (the Canadian 1921 census is the most recent census that’s publicly-available).

As an aside: I feel like there’s been an up-tick in quality on how people have been using Ancestry. Just a few years ago, it felt like a bit of a slog to pick and choose the good quality records from other people’s trees; recently, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much good-quality information people have been adding. One area that’s really been helpful is in regards to photos. When I started adding photos to my family tree a few years ago, it seemed at the time like photos were rare. Now I’m fascinated by the number of distant family members I find with really good-quality photos attached to them.

Also in the last few days, I’ve learned a few more details about a bit of a family mystery.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2014-08-20 11:22 pm

What even are children?

Dear friends who have children, or spend a lot of time in their presence (without cowering in fear, like I do): I’m looking for some help identifying the age of these kids. How old do you think the kids are in this picture?

John and Matilda Holmes

I know who the three older kids are, but I’m trying to identify the baby. It’s either my father, or my father’s older sister, Elizabeth, who died as an infant. If it’s the latter, then this might be the only picture of her that I know of.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2014-08-17 11:26 pm

More Curious Findings from Genealogy

I’m tackling more of the Holmes family. I left civilization, today, to visit my aunt in Mississauga (I kid! I kid! Mississauga’s not that bad, especially for someone who grew up in Sarnia). My aunt loaned me a metric buttload of old photos that I’m busily scanning, and we talked about family history.

Doris and Vidal Holmes - small

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bcholmes: (meshes in the afternoon)
2014-02-09 08:45 pm

Those Irish Holmes (Redux)

Those Irish Holmes (Cover)It’s like a blast from the past, man. I have a copy in my hot little… Documents folder.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2013-12-29 02:56 pm

Houles of Dover Township

I’ve lost a few more hours of my life looking up Houles. Here are the descendants of Pierre Houle (who is, I believe, the first Houle to arrive in Dover Township). The chart’s not complete, by any means, but there are a coupl’a interesting aspects to it.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2013-11-24 07:30 pm

Those Irish Holmes

I’m not exactly sure, but I think I was in high school when I was given a copy of a family-tree-filled booklet called Those Irish Holmes. I’ve only found a few references to it online, and those references suggest that it was published in 1987 (but with a question mark after the date) — I would have been in university in ’87, and I’m sure I had my copy before that. My parents moved during my first year of university, and I never saw the book after that move.

I’ve never really known how the Holmeses arrived in Ireland, but I’ve always known that my Holmes ancestors were Irish. My father strongly identified as Irish; my mother didn’t express any particular affinity with any national origin, although she has a lot of Irish in her with a French streak as well, based on the family tree.

I’ve found enough information from that original book, online, that I can reassemble the fragments I recall about how the Holmeses came to Canada. It starts with the family of Andrew Holmes and his wife Susan/Susannah. In 1845-49, the Great Irish Famine was in full swing. Compounding the problems of the famine was Irish fever — a typhus epidemic that took hold in Ireland, and moved to England.

It appears that Andrew and Susan packed up with 6 of their 7 children (the eldest, Mary Ann, stayed in Ireland with her husband) and sailed off to Canada. I have conflicting information about whether this took place in 1845 or 1847. New York had enacted some legislation with the goal of keeping Irish immigrants out in an attempt to prevent the epidemic from arriving and Canada knew full well that it was going to see a dramatic rise in possibly sick Irish arrivals. The arrival station at Grosse Île, Quebec, ramped up its quarantine procedures and prepared for the influx. Today, there’s a monument on Grosse Île which reads, “In this secluded spot lie the mortal remains of 5,294 persons, who, flying from pestilence and famine in Ireland in the year 1847, found in America but a grave.” One of the names recorded on the memorial is Andrew Holmes, who died in 1845.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2013-11-10 12:22 pm


Genealogy things:

  1. It’s interesting to be able to finally say, “Oh, so that’s where Aunt Bonnie fits in the overall family!” There are all these relatives that I finally understand in context.
  2. Because old records are more available than recent records I have, in some ways, a clearer picture of great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents than I have of aunts and uncles.
  3. I have a few memories of my father’s father. He died in 1968, when I was just under two years old. That kinda boggles my mind.
  4. Every time I encounter a never-married relative, I wonder if they were queer. I’m sure that most of them probably weren’t, but I see the world through queer-coloured glasses, and I wonder what kind of evidence I’d ever find to confirm one way or the other.
  5. Don’s mother (whom I remember as “Grandma Smith”) had a brother, William Bantam, who married a woman named Hattie (Harriet) Rose. According to Don’s notes, family legend has it that Hattie ran off with an American fisherman/boater and no one in the family ever heard from her again. I, of course, read too much true crime and can’t help but wonder if she’s buried in a back yard somewhere. It doesn’t help that I can find five other family trees in Ancestry.ca, and none of those trees have any details about what happens to Hattie. No date of death. No records of any kind. Just gone.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2013-10-22 10:04 pm

Back to the drawing board

On the weekend, I started to suspect that one of the key family tree connections in the Houle line was based on extremely weak evidence. At this point, I’m pretty sure that connection is wrong.

This whole process feels, in odd ways, like programming. I’m reading a document that I didn’t produce, and I’m having to glean from it what the original author was thinking. It’s a lot like reading someone else’s code. “Why did you put that there? What made you think it was important?”

The problem goes back, again, to Pierre Houle. It’s pretty crucial to understand who his parents are. Once he arrives in Dover Township, he and his family are fairly well documented. There are certain circumstantial hints about his parentage available in the documentation:

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bcholmes: (bacon)
2013-10-21 01:48 pm

Follow that Herd

I think I’ve reached the point of needing an Ancestry.ca subscription. All the good data is in there.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2013-10-20 06:27 pm

New hair-pulling part of the family

Gervais Houde. Oh, how I hate you. All of you.

My grandmother is a Houle — a name variation of Houde, which happens to be a particularly old family name in Quebec. Apparently Houde is in the top 50 most-common surnames in Quebec, and there’s a particular ancestor, Louis Houde, who came over to New France (aka Lower Canada, aka Quebec) in 1647. (Interesting aside: Wikipedia says that in 1653, the population of New France was 2000, so he was an early settler) He’s a mason by trade and in 1655 he married Madeleine Boucher. Let’s not talk about the fact that he was 37 and she was 13. No good can come of dwelling.

Louis Houde has a son named Gervais Houde (born in 1664) who married Anne Catherine Denevers (that name might derive from a noble title — the Count de Nevers/Count of Nevers. w00t! I might secretly be all noble or something!)

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bcholmes: lifeclocks are a lie!  Carousel is a lie!  There is no renewal! (old)
2013-10-14 10:11 pm

Photos from the past. Plus math.

I’ve found the section of Don’s material that has all the old photos of me throughout the years. Eeep. It was a whole other gender ago!

Also some news clippings from when I was in school. There are two newspaper articles from my high school days. It’s funny; I remember the days when the photos were taken, but I couldn’t quite remember the events that precipitated them. They’re both from 1983.

In the first case, there’s a photo of 17 students from grades 9, 10, and 11. I’m one of the grade 11 students. This article related to the University of Waterloo-sponsored math contests: these, I think, would be the Pascal, Cayley, and Fermat math contests (our high school did a lot of math contests). Apparently our scores placed our high school first in south-western Ontario. I, of course, recognized a number of the faces from that photo, including my high school friend and Canadian math prodigy Eric Veach (who’s been at Google for a good while now).

The second photo had to do with a set of computer contests run by the American Computer Science League. If they’re the ones I’m thinking about, they involved a number of exercises (something like six to ten), each done on a different day, where you’d code a program to a spec and the instructor would test your program against some pre-defined test data to see if you got the right output. According to the article, Northern came in 33rd against 346 schools, and 1st in Canada. Interestingly, I remember almost everyone in this photo — even the ones I had little interaction with. Eric’s there, again, and my other close high school friend, Chris Irie, is hanging out in the back row. I think Eric and I are the only grade 11 students — all the others were a year ahead of us.

All this to say, hey, I was there! I kicked ass! I took names! And then I promptly forgot most of those names over the years. Humf.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2013-10-13 07:02 pm

Migrating Families

This just gets more and more interesting. It looks like “my” Joseph Peters was born in 1772 in Chatham, Middlesex, Connecticut and his father, Samuel Peters, was born in Hebron, New York. It looks like they migrated to Canada (probably because of the American Revolution) and ended up in Ernestown, Ontario (near Kingston). Joseph ends up dying in 1841.

The “other” Joseph Peters was born in 1770 in Ernestown, Ontario and ended up moving, at some point, to England where he died. No wonder people conflated them.

Making it even more brain-teasing, for me, is that a lot of my family comes from the area around Chatham, Ontario (which has a nearby Middlesex county for good measure). It’s hard to see Chatham, Connecticut and not think, “wait, is that a mistake?”

Another Torontonian, Sheila Dowdell, seems to have done a lot of legwork on this family — although it turns out that the genealogy of Dorcas Watchman Snyder is the history that’s harder to get at the truth of. She’s written some interesting posts on bulletin boards and has copies of Joseph’s birth, marriage, and death records on a Mundia.com profile.

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bcholmes: I’m covered in bees! (bee sea)
2013-10-13 10:20 am

Genealogy is just Databases, no?

I’ve encountered my first big mystery in the genealogy research. I do a few things as I digitize the research. I scan the pages — mostly, these pages are divided up into main family lines. Then I try to transcribe the large number of charts into a software product called MacFamilyTree, and that tool has some synchronization capabilities with a website called FamilySearch.org (run, as most of these sites are, by the LDS).

Genealogy websites are, basically, databases. And I understand databases. But I also understand that trying to decide that two records really are the “same” person requires a certain amount of human interpretation.

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bcholmes: (eclipse)
2013-09-22 10:39 am

The Whole Famn Damily

On Friday, I finally started taking a crack at the genealogy info that I picked up a year and a half ago.

Here’s the story. When I was in grade 7, my teacher (Mr. Cowan) gave us a homework assignment to construct a family tree. I called my grandfather (my mother’s stepfather) for help with some names. He was able to pull some info together, and I was able to write out a few generations. My grandfather, however, never stopped researching after that.

That was 1978 or 1979. My grandfather died in 2007. He spent almost 30 years figuring out where the different connecting families came from and who all the descendants were. He hasn’t touched the Holmeses, instead looking at his family (English Smiths and Bantams with smatterings of German lines), my grandmother’s family (French Houles and Irish Kehoes) and my bio-grandfather’s family (Irish Dyneses/Dineses, Nelsons and Kelleys).

After my grandfather died, no one else in the family seemed interested in this material, and it looked like it was headed for the trash bin. So I spoke up!

My grandfather did very little of his research with computers. Most of it is type-written, with family tree charts drawn on (I think) graph paper with type-written names. My grandfather was a compulsive organizer (and he was never far from his label gun), and it’s clear that this stuff was a labour of love.

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bcholmes: (shaz)
2012-06-03 11:04 pm

Binders and binders as far as the eye can see!

I think the first thing I need to do is get all of these pages scanned. There are thousands of pages, here, though.