Category Archives: family history

OGS Annual Conference: My Top Ten

Hamilton Spectator Photo

  1. A British Home Child Special Interest Group (SIG) was chartered by the executive. I attended the organizational meeting and am excited about this new group as one of my great-grandfathers was a British Home Child.
  2. Numerous references to what was referred to by one speaker as “environmental genealogy”, that is, what society was like around our ancestors. I plan to try to enhance my research with more of this kind of information.
  3. Dave Obee pointed to the Federation of Eastern European History Societies (FEEFHS) maps collection. These will be a great help in researching the history and geography around my paternal ancestors in Russia/Ukraine.
  4. The records in parish chests (in England) are being digitized in great numbers and more and more are coming online. The parish chest was typically a heavy wooden lockable chest that contained all the documents central to the running of a Church of England parish. These would include records of baptisms, marriages, deaths; the manorial survey; records of the poor law administration, other ecclesiatical records. These can be very helpful in adding to the information included in your family history.
  5. While Attestation Papers for those who served in WWI are available online at Library and Archives Canada, they will also provide complete WWI military files for a fee. I have a great-uncle who served and hope to arrange to get a copy of his file next time I’m in Ottawa.
  6. I attended a very interesting talk on emigration of Scots given by Ruth Blair and I am searching for leads on my maternal great-grandmother who came as a single woman in 1899 and married my great-grandfather shortly thereafter. I have not been able to find a passenger listing for her trip to Canada and I got some new resources for that search.
  7. At the end of the conference, a big announcement regarding the partnership between the Ontario Genealogical Society and The National Institute for Genealogical Studies was announced.  Details regarding the new benefits accruing to memebers and the two organizations will be announced over the next few months, but free registration in the course Social Media for the Wise Genealogist was offered to all OGS members! Also, OGS branches will be able to make use of the NIGS Live Meeting technology for branch meetings and other activities.
  8. Dave Obee‘s talk More Than Just Names and Dates provided some solid rationale for “environmental genealogy” as mentioned in 2 above. His background as a journalist demonstrated the power of enhancing our genealogical research with context, stories, and an enhanced understanding of the forces that influenced our ancestors lives. He suggested some excellent resources for this kind of research and this has prompted me to seroiusly consider setting up a wiki or some other kind of online presence to capture and communicate my family history.
  9. The Market Place at the conference is an excellent source of new information, books, maps, software and other things. I picked up an autographed copy of Brenda Dougall Merriman’s Genealogy in Ontario:  Searching the Records (Fourth Edition) and a used copy of The Little Immigrants:  The Orphans Who Came to Canada by Kenneth Bagnall, one of the earlier books (1980) about Home Children.
  10. Life Gems Personal Histories was also at the Market Place. Christine Cowley has put together a book and workbook to help capture stories and memories to pass on to the people you love, to ensure that these aren’t lost. From her website:

“I am intrigued to think how little most of us talk about ourselves with the people closest to us,” says Cowley. “I finally realized that what people need is a really simple and fun way to do that.”

With busy lives it’s hard to find time to chat or write down family stories, and revelations or deeply felt emotions are often never shared. Some things are just too hard to say. The result is that great stories and sentiments are lost.

“As individuals we are the only ones who can talk about who we are, what we think and why we do or did things a particular way,” says Cowley. “I was always told that my grandmother Eva, who died when my father was a child, had a similar personality to mine. Maybe that was another way for my parents to say, ‘She doesn’t get it from me!’ but given the unconventional life my grandmother chose, I feel proud to have her genes. What I wouldn’t give to have just a few lines she might have written about herself.” 

I picked up a copy of the book/workbook set and look forward to using it myself and possibly with some family members. 

Seven Quick Takes Friday


Haven’t done this for a while, but here we go:

  1. I’m in Guelph for a workshop on Scottish Genealogy with Dr Bruce Durie, Course Director of Genealogical Studies at Strathclyde University.  He’s visiting the Scottish Studies department at the University of Guelph and I’m looking forward to getting some tips on researching the Morren branch of my family tree.
  2. I”m staying at a rather low-end hotel close to the university campus and didn’t sleep all that well last night.  The air conditioning system is extremely noisy and the room is rather poorly furnished with lumpy pillows and a tiny bathroom.  Don’t get me started on the vile in-room coffee. I don’t know why I even bother brewing it. There is breakfast offered in the lobby but I am seriously considering just skipping that and hopping across the street to Cora
  3. just announced some new records:  The Canada School Directories. I found a Goddard ancestor in the Annual Register and Business Directory of the Sons of England Benevolent Society for the Dominion of Canada which is a terrific find because I knew very little about him. There also appears to be some old case law in Ontario from the late 1800s with the name Goddard which I will be following up on.
  4. I’m looking forward to our trip to England in a couple of weeks. We’ll be staying at the Queen’s International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle for the first four days and then will travel in Kent. I still need to book some accomodation for those last four days so must get on that this weekend.
  5. We’ve also booked travel to Stockholm at the end of July, for just the two of us. It will be the anniversary of Zouheir’s mother’s death in August and there will be a mass said for her. All of her children will be there and we’re planning a two-night cruise to Helsinki together which should be lots of fun and a great way to be together with everyone freed up from cooking and hosting:  a very suitable way to celebrate this remarkable woman. It will be my first visit to Sweden and I am very much looking forward to seeing Stockholm, as well as visiting with my wonderful in-laws.
  6. My boys are doing well. Alex’s second year at Queen’s is drawing to a close, with classes ending in a week and then exams start on the 15th of April. He’ll be working as a Section Head at Crestwood Valley Day Camp in July and August and is hoping to do some French study in France in May and/or June if he can find a place to study and get credit. Michael is hanging in for the rest of Grade 10, still busy with Music and working hard to focus on his other schoolwork as well. He’s got a gig with the Youth Big Band this Sunday at The Rex (Noon) and concerts with Hannaford coming up as well. He’ll also be playing in a masterclass with Patrick Sheridan. He’s looking forward to two weeks at Interprovincial Music Camp in August: one week of Jazz (bass trombone) and one week of Band/Orchestra (tuba).
  7. One of the perks of being an opera subscriber is the occasional freebie. Earlier this season, on the evening of the municipal elections (and presumably low ticket sales due to the high anxiety around that election), I got comped two box-seat tickets for Death in Venice which was a terrific show, in all it’s depressing glory. Next Monday, we’ve got invites to a working rehearsal of La Cenerentola (Cinderella).  This is not one of the operas in our subscription package, so I’m excited to be able to catch a freebie, even if in it’s un-final form.

Check out some other quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Genealogical volunteer work.

I have been interested in genealogy for most of my adult life and since moving to Toronto in 2007, have gotten involved with the Toronto branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society.  In the past year, I’ve joined the Enquiries team, a small group that responds to requests for information that come in to the Branch from researchers around the world who would like assistance accessing records available in local libraries and archives.  I have done “look-ups” at the North York Central Library (mostly the Canadiana Room) as well as the Archives of Ontario and these are of great help to me as I learn about how to access these records while doing the work.

Recently, a request came in for records from the London Insane Asylum. The Archives of Ontario holds these records and they are available in a couple of forms.  Lists of patients are available in their original notebooks, stored in archival boxes, and I was able to take digital photographs of these for our client.



The actual case files are on microfilm, and the film-readers are driven by computers that let you save the images to an external storage device like a USB stick or portable hard drive.  

I find this kind of research very interesting and I try to undertake a few lookups for my own personal research when I’m at the Archives or library.

Late last year I was asked to blog for Simcoe’s Gentry, a project of the Toronto Branch that is documenting the original Park Lots granted under Lord Simcoe in the Town of York.  Their website is an ongoing repository of research, and the blog will help to introduce people to the work.  The first post was in February and is here. You can scroll through the posts using the navigation at the upper right of that page.  This is a very interesting project and I’m getting to know a lot about the history of Toronto.


[1851 Township of York – The original map can be seen at the Toronto Reference Library (call number 912.71354b68)]

Finally, I have taken on the role of Twitter-mistress for the branch, sending out announcements of interest to our followers every couple of days. These can include meeting reminders, course information, history or heritage events of interest to genealogists in Toronto, and links to new online resources.  We set up the account in late January and hit 100 followers today, which suggests that we are offering a service of value to both our members and other followers with similar interests. You can follow us at

A Georgian-era curiosity.

I was browsing through a document containing wills from the Goddard family (Source:  Goddard Association of Europe), and came across a curious entry.  I have highlighted the bit I find….interesting.  My grandmother was a Goddard, but not from this line.

ELIZABETH GODDARD of Wigmore Street, parish of St. Marylebone, co. Middlesex,spinster. Will dated 9 June 1791. Desires to be secretly buried, without much show, in the vault atEltham, co. Kent, between my father and mother; executors not to have my coffin screwed downuntil I am visibly changed and there be evident signs of putrefaction in my body. To nephew SirEdward William James my clock and all my pictures and prints. To said nephew and niece MrsElizabeth Ann Parkyns and my four great-nieces Elizabeth Ann, Selina Jane, Harriet Elizabeth, andAnn Catherine Parkyns, £100 each. To goddau. Elizabeth Ann Parkyns all my ear-rings and trinkets.To nephew George Augustus Kollman, son of Mr Augustus Frederick Christopher Kollman,organist to H. M. German Chapel at St. James’s, my German books and £20 for a ring. To Rev.William Charles Dyer, Chaplain of Tichfield Chapel,and Mr James Shendineof High Street, parishof St. Marylebone, £100 in trust to pay interest to trustees of a charity instituted in 1750 for makingclothes, etc., for poor children in St. Marylebone. To footman Henry Brown interest on £60, part ofmy long annuities, for his life. To own maid-servant who shall be with me at my decease £10 andclothing. My leasehold house in Wigmore Street to sister Dame Anne James, who is sole executrix.

Witnesses: Wm Cardale, Gray’s Inn, Wm Spear, Henry Temple.
Proved 3 October 1797 by executrix. (P.C.C., 642, Exeter.)


Seven Quick Takes Friday



Have I mentioned how much I love my Kindle?  I have?  I’ve now carried it with me about town, on the subway, into cafes, and have totally loved the freedom to have a bunch of books with me wherever I go.  I like that I can increase the font size when I want to lay it on a table while eating, and that I have a choice of books for every mood.  One of my friends asked me to bring it with me on our outing yesterday so she could see it, and I may have a couple of converts.  I’ll never totally give up paper-based books (Toronto has one of the best library systems in the world), but it’s making reading very pleasurable nonetheless.


Am reading (on my Kindle) The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I’m currently enjoying the section on neuroplasticity, the idea that our brain can change depending on the experiences/tasks/trauma it undergoes. Carr and I have had a similar history with computers and the internet, and similar feelings of loss of the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time. A snippet:

At first I’d figured that the problem was a symptom of middle-age mind rot.  But my brain, I realized, wasn’t just drifting.  It was hungry.  It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it — and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became.  When when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check e-mail, click links, do some Googling.  I wanted to be connected.  Just as Microsoft Word had turned me into a flesh and blood word processor, the Internet, I sensed, was turning me into something like a high-speed data-processing machine, a human HAL.
I missed my old brain. 


I am working on my third course through the Institute of Genealogical Studies, the second Methodology course called Organizing and Skill-Building.  I’ve been creating numbering systems and binders for each of the families associated with my four grandparents.  It feels great to get my stacks of paperwork and documents organized, and my next step is to try to make some headway with a Rubbermaid bin of photographs.  I’m also hoping to do more genalogical blogging, and possibly set up a separate site for those posts.


My summer choir program is coming together nicely.  We have a concert scheduled for August 15th at a Marian Shrine in west Toronto. The music is lovely, is a workout for the brain and the voice, and I leave rehearsals feeling calm and happy.  Almost meditative.  I’ve met some very nice people and have enjoyed it very much.  I may decide to stay on in the fall if I can get the okay to skip the last Monday of each month for the Toronto Branch (OGS) meetings.


Michael has been working on both his tuba and bass trombone this summer.  He’s taking lessons on both from two excellent (and very different) teachers.  He’s getting ready for music camp at the end of the summer (jazz camp on trombone) and the three music courses he’ll be taking in the fall.  He’s hoping to be in the Junior Concert Band, Junior Orchestra, and Junior Stage Band this year as well as a vocal ensemble, so he’ll be a busy boy.  He’s also planning to audition for a couple of community bands with the hope of getting some more playing.  I’m just thrilled that he’s enjoying music so much as I know how much pleasure it’s brought me over the years.


Made a very tasty quinoa salad this week.  Will definitely make it again, possibly adding more parsley and/or cilantro to green it up a bit.  Keeps quite well in the fridge for a couple of days.


We said goodbye to our niece, Magali, on Wednesday.  She came to Canada from France 2-1/2 years ago to work for Danone in Montreal and is returning to work for their Evian division.  She frequently came to Toronto on business, so we saw her every couple of months.  It was great getting to know her better, and having her relatively close to us here in Canada.  She leaves Montreal on Sunday, will have a few days in Paris to relax, and then will start apartment hunting in Evian. We wish her the best!
Here’s a little memory of Canada for her…the visit to Niagara Falls on an incredibly cold day two winters ago! 


Visit our host Jennifer at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Exciting Connections: Conference Update!

The OGS Conference this past weekend was a whirlwind of sessions, volunteering, and coffee-drinking.  It was held at a hotel out near the airport, so I was commuting 20-40 mintues each day, depending on traffic, and Friday and Saturday mornings I started at 7 am (working the sign-in desk) so I had some very long days.

But the good news is that the sessions were terrific, I got some great ideas for proceeding with my work, and made some interesting connections with people.  Case in point:  both mornings I worked with a woman who used to live in Ottawa, has ancestors in Gatineau, and still belongs to the Ottawa Branch of the OGS.  She explained the genesis of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa and that they do a lot of work on Home Children, including an upcoming conference in Ottawa this fall.  So I hope to get up to that.

I had also volunteered to work in the Research Centre onsite at the conference, as set of 12 laptops with free access to some popular (paid) genealogical websites (like Ancestry and Find My Past.)  The woman who organized the volunteers also looks after inquiries that come into the Toronto Branch of the OGS and they have been looking for someone to deal with inquiries needing research at the North York Central Library, which is a stone’s throw from my place, Helping them out with this will improve my research skills and introduce me to some of the resources that I haven’t yet discovered.

There was a marketplace at the conference with representation from major family history societies, publishers, software and internet-based companies, and some miscellaneous vendors.  I was able to purchase a copy of a book that I had just borrowed from the public library and decided that I needed a copy.  It’s called The Golden Bridge:  Young Immigrants to Canada, 1833-1939 by Marjorie Kohli, and is the best overall resource on Home Children available at the moment.  I had so many post-its in my borrowed copy that I knew I had to get my own!  I also purchsed a CD-ROM containing The Gazetteer of Scotland, 1882, and a book published by the National Institute for Genealogical Studies called Researching Canada’s Home Children by John D. Reid.

I’ll post about what I learned in the sessions later, including some great tips that have already led to me connecting with “cousins”!