Bill's Genealogy Blog

Bill Buchanan is a long-time genealogy enthusiast, living in Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada. This blog will describe my experiences as I research my family history and help others.

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Location: Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada

I am a retired online school teacher. I love family history. Since 2007, I have spent much of my time providing part-time support for the world's largest free family history site This is very rewarding. I have helped others with the Family Tree and related FamilySearch products.
In 2010-2018 Iserved in the Edmonton Riverbend Family History Centre. I have a FHC blog at Bill's Family History Center Blog For information the Latter-day Saints and family history click

Friday, November 15, 2019

A Forbidden Romance - Robert Buchanan & Elizabeth Watson

This is the story of Elizabeth Watson (daughter of James Watson jr and Jane Buchanan) and Robert Buchanan (Son of William Buchanan and Ann Thompson) , as told by their grandson Robert "Weldon" Buchanan to his grand-daughter Suzanne.

Robert and Elizabeth were first cousins and their parents tried to discourage their romance. The Watsons were preparing to move to Neepawa, Manitoba, and hoped that distance would help the two abandon their love and find someone else.

Weldon says that Elizabeth got on the train with her family and got off in Palmerston, north of Listowel.  This means that she rode the train for several minutes acting as if everything was normal. In such a large family, as one of the eldest she was likely expected to help keep the younger ones in order, and there was probably some confusion while the family got settled in their seats on the train.

As the train pulled into the Palmerston station, Elizabeth slipped away and got off the train. Weldon says that Robert was waiting at the station to meet her. She wasn’t missed by her family until the train was long gone.


Robert and Elizabeth prospered in Ontario, and they made frequent visits to family members in Manitoba, and even further west, as shown in this newspaper clipping.

Friday Harbor Journal (San Juan) news clipping from Linda Rose of Lopez Island
August 1924
Mrs. Robert Buchanan and son Alex, of Atwood, Ontario, are spending a few days on the Island, guests at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Buchanan and other relatives here.  Mrs. Buchanan will visit in Vancouver, B. C., and middle west provinces before returning to her eastern home.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The big move from Ontario to Manitoba in 1879

The following account was written by David James Watson.

Just a few of the highlights of our trip to Manitoba in the spring of 1879.
Departure from Elma, Ontario
We left Millbank station in the township of Elma in Perth County along with a number of families coming to Manitoba, where my father [James Watson jr.] and my oldest brother [Robert] had taken homesteads & pre-emptions in the summer of 1878 on Sec 32 TP15R15 six miles north of where the thriving town of Neepawa now stands. At that time it was wild land, but now our old homestead is known as the Dables brothers’ farm.

In the summer of 1878 my father and brother got some land broken up and some log buildings up, and in the winter of 1878 my father came back to Ontario to make the arrangements for moving the rest of our family to our new home in the west.

On the Train
The train being of considerable length, the car with the stock wasn’t near the coaches we were in. So when the train would stop to take on water, my brother Solomon, a lad of fourteen, would get off the coach and run to the stock car to milk the cows. Then the next time the train stopped he would get off the stock car and come back with the milk.

The train was made up of several cars of settlers’ effects besides the coaches, which made a train of considerable length. One dark night, the coupling on the car we were in broke and left us sitting on the track between stations. My mother, being awake, wondered at the stop. On looking out she could see no lights, so she sent a man back to find the conductor. He got men with lanterns out each way along the track, as another train was nearly due.

When the train arrived at the next station with no train men aboard, it caused considerable excitement. As they came back in search for us they were afraid to speed in case they ran into us. Finally they spotted the signal lights of the train crew. They hitched onto the coach we were in. I can remember the big red embers from the engine coming over our coach as the fireman stoked the old engine, but there was no damage done.

So we finally arrived at St. Boniface on one of the first trains on the newly laid steel between Emerson and St. Boniface. There being no railroad into Winnipeg and no bridges across the river, we had to cross the river by ferryboat.

Fort Garry
The government had a building on the Winnipeg side of the river about where the CNR station now stands. The building was about 100 feet long. It was one story with a partition down the centre and then divided into 12-foot rooms where the new settlers could get temporary lodgings while getting organized for their final destinations. There was a cookhouse on either side of this big building to accommodate the people. Quite frequently a woman would put her kettle on the stove and go back to her room for something else, to find on her return that someone had set that kettle off and set hers on. Well, there were some Irish women who didn’t approve of that way of doing business, so quite often there was a fight. When they had demonstrated who was the best boxer, they would call a Mr. Frost, who lived close by and was supposed to supervise the use of the buildings. But if Mr. Frost got wise in time, he usually was absent. Well, needless to say, it furnished amusement for a lot of us youngsters.

Fort Garry on the north side of the river was in good repair at that time and had a stone fence enclosing quite a sized piece of land. The fort had what we youngsters called “peek holes” to shoot through if attacked by Indians. There was another old landmark on the north side of the river, a red building, which I was told was a grist mill. The fort was a favorite place for us youngsters to play while the men folk were getting ready for the journey west. There being too much freight to load in the wagons and carts, part of the stuff was sent to Portage on the old stern wheeler boat that used to follow the river to Brandon.

Mud on the Trail
Well, we finally got started west, so in the absence of better roads we followed the south Red River Cart trail, which crossed the sand hills north of Carberry. The season being very rainy, we had to cross many bad waterholes. Some places at a really deep creek, a homesteader would build a bridge of poles and stay there all day and charge for each wagon, cart, or loose animal that crossed. Other places the men would wade through to see how deep the water and mud was, then they would hitch two teams to each wagon and try their luck. If they got stuck in the mud, the men would carry the children and some of the women to dry ground, and then carry part of the load, then take logging chains and if the chains were too short to reach solid ground, they would take poles and notch the ends of the poles so the chains wouldn’t slip off, and in that way draw the wagons out. The oxen being better in mud than horses, usually got through by having some of the men help by lifting on the spokes in the wheels. The mosquitoes were so thick one could scarcely see through them. When the women fried meat in the evenings, the mosquitoes would come to the fire, their wings would scorch, and they would drop in the frying pan. The grease would scarcely run out of the pan.

Arrival in the Wilderness
Well, we finally reached our new home on the 7th of June, 1879, with three youngsters sick with measles, after being on the road 23 days. It was no pleasure trip for my mother, to say the least.
Neighbors were scarce at that time. Sam Buchanan and his son John one mile away, Bill Warnock 1 1/2 miles, Jim and John Coulter 2 miles south, Jonas Potter 3 miles west. Gradually the settlers kept coming in. There being no churches or schools, the missionaries had to hold services in settlers houses and travel on horseback in the summer and by toboggan in winter time.

There being no local stores to get supplies at, my father had to draw supplies from Portage and Winnipeg. The first winter we were in Manitoba he spent 42 days drawing supplies. My eldest sister came out in the fall of 1879 with her family of three, so with our late arrival the previous spring, we had no potatoes or vegetables.. It took a powerful lot of bread to feed such a houseful, 15 in all. I remember once in particular, my sister Jenny, just a girl in her teens, baked 100 pounds of flour between Friday morning and Saturday night, which I think was rather a record with just a common cook stove to cook in.

As time went on and more settlers came in, the settlers called a meeting and set a day, and they went to the bush to get logs and built a church, where all the settlers could attend like one big family.

Sometimes we would meet huge bands of Indians on the trail, and usually the fellows with the most feathers in their headdress would be riding ponies at the front of the caravan of fifty or more carts, with a pony hitched to each cart with each pony tied to the preceding cart. usually three or four Indians were riding along either side of the road, each with a long whip to keep the caravan moving along. Once I remember seeing one of their ponies get stuck in a mud hole and he refused to pull, so one of the Indians tied the pony’s tail to the whiffletree, then he applied the whip. To the surprise of all of us white folks, the pony pulled the cart out in that way.

Local Government
As time went on, the settlers decided to elect a council to look after the business of the County of Beautiful Plains. The members of the first council have all gone to their last resting place. The names of the first council as I remember them were: Jonathan Hamilton*, reeve, William Curry, sec. Treasurer, James Watson [the writer’s father], Peter Graham [brother to “Big Jim”], Thomas Newton, John Honeyman, a Mr. Leatch I invite correction if this isn’t right.

A petition was later presented to the council asking that a trail be opened from the Neepawa district to Dauphin, so a delegation was appointed to see if a road could be made. The names of the councilors appointed follows: James Watson, Wm. Gardiner, Peter Graham, Tom Newton. So they set out with ox carts, tents, provisions, and several young men from the district went with along in hopes of finding homesteads. They blazed a trail through bush in many places, and followed gravel ridges where possible. Eventually they returned with a satisfactory report that a trail could be made, which was later done. Settlers used that route for several years. It was also used as a mail route to Dauphin for several years.

Burned Out
In the early eighties the government passed a law making it legal for a man who had taken out the deed for his first homestead to take out a second homestead. So, in 1885, the year of the North West Rebellion, my father took a second homestead on the SE of section 16TP18R15, near where the village of Riding Mountain now stands. He built a house on it in 1886 and moved to it in the same year. The nearest neighbor then was John Bare, three miles south, but again neighbors soon began to come in. We had to do our shopping and draw our grain or any other produce to Neepawa. Then in the summer of 1887, I homesteaded on section 14T18R15. I worked out at $18.00 per month in the summer and $13.00 per month in the lumber camp drawing saw logs in the winter. I finally built a house and had it nicely furnished. I lived in it three months when it got burned with all its contents, so I again was just worth the clothes I was wearing. Mr. John Crawford, the implement dealer offered to supply me with what implements I needed to get a new start, so with friends like that I made a new start and got my debts paid.

I had some tough sledding at times, but I try to forget that and just think of the many friends I have at Riding Mountain. [– David James Watson]

Kidnapped by Indians

James Buchanan was born at Donegal, Ontario in 1852 when it was still wilderness, His parents William Buchanan and Ann Thompson lived in a tent, and his habit of not closing doors behind him later in life was blamed on the fact that as a small child there was no door to close, so he never developed that habit.

But he is better known for another reason. His sister Jane Buchanan Terry, tells how he was once kidnapped by Indians as a little boy, and found by a scout party of settlers.  The Indians promised to make him a great chief if they could keep him, but agreed to give him back,

Apparently the Indians did not think they were kidnapping him. They just saw this little boy playing in the woods and he followed them out of curiosity. When the search party found them they were happy to give him back to his family.

But he lost his chance to become an Indian chief.

Love and Appreciate your Living Family Members

We had invited Lloyd for dinner last Friday, and we had a nice chicken dinner with him, He gave me the “early Christmas present” he referred to on Monday when he had phoned. It was a 1 Terabyte solid-state drive! If you are reading this in the future, you might not understand the enormity of this present. It is the same size as the hard disk drive in my computer and incredibly faster, 

Lloyd has the skills and the tools to clone my HDD to the SSD, which he proceeded to do. Now my computer boots into Windows 10 in a few seconds, when it formerly took about 10 minutes. And everything else is faster too!

Lloyd lives simply, but he is generous beyond measure. His gifts are things that I don't realize I need until I have them. 

Thank you Lloyd, for your efforts to make people's lives better,

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Winter Widows, Mining, and Vigilantes

Money was hard to come by in those early days. Farming was mostly on a subsistence level. Most laborers earned only $1.00 per day. In the 1860s and 1870s some of the Buchanan and Watson men found a more lucrative source of income. The mines in Nevada were looking for miners and would pay as much as $3.50 per day. After the crops were harvested, the men would leave their farms in the charge of their wives and children, and make the 11-day journey by train and horseback to Nevada. The wives left behind to work the farms were jokingly called "winter widows". It was a hardship on the whole family, but it was judged as the best way of getting ahead financially. I don't have a definitive list of who went to Nevada, but the list is known to include Samuel and John Buchanan, and David and James Watson.

When I was first told that “they were gold miners in Nevada”  I thought of solitary men with floppy hats panning gold along a mountain stream. I soon came to realize that this was completely wrong. Nevada mines were huge industrial complexes, deep underground with large crews and terrible heat!

The only place the family mined that I have heard mentioned specifically is Gold Hill, Nevada. Gold Hill was a mining town on the "Bonanza" Comstock Lode, just south of the more famous Virginia City. Today little remains of Gold Hill. The following brief articles describe these towns.

GOLD HILL - Actually discovered before Virginia City and its size rivaled that town for a few years. By 1873, it had become a small city with a population of 8000. It had its own mines on this southern end of the Comstock Lode but after 1878, the mines declined and so did Gold Hill. By the turn of the century, less than 50 still lived here. The town has never been abandoned and the Gold Hill Hotel, the oldest in Nevada, is still in operation. Other buildings remain including the old V & T RR depot which is being restored and is used by the revived railroad which caters to tourists.

VIRGINIA CITY - Virginia City was the most famous of Nevada mining towns. Two words say it all: “Comstock Lode”. First discovered in 1859, the rest is history. The town's population ranged as high as 75,000 in 1875. Today, it continues to be a vibrant town although mining ceased many years ago. It is the premier tourist town in Nevada. It retains much of its early flavor.

The Mines
Most of the Comstock miners worked deep underground, under deplorable conditions. An estimated 600 mine shafts were tunneled to gain access to the rich silver and gold ore of the Comstock Lode before it was depleted in the1880s. The Nevada mines are said to have pumped a billion dollars into the American economy during their heyday. (This played an important role in financing the Union army during the American Civil War. In return, Nevada was allowed to become a state without having to meet the usual requirements.) If you translate that in terms of today's dollars, the amount of money is even more staggering. This was no small operation! Miners usually earned about $3.00 per day, very good money for the time.

Desperadoes and Vigilantes
The payrolls attracted predators of the worst sort. In several towns the only way the criminals were driven out of town was by vigilantes. At least some of the “vigilance committees” seem to have been organized by the fraternal lodges and the miners' unions. The name of the vigilante organization that cleaned up Reno is interesting "The 601". The one that drove the criminals out of Gold Hill is referred to as "Club 101" in family tradition. Perhaps the story that was passed down refers to Reno rather than Gold Hill, but all the vigilante stories are very similar. Mark Twain's articles while he worked for a Virginia City newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise (1862-1868), gave an interesting look at the times.

Club 101, as told by Samuel Buchanan
Some of the worst predators were a group of Australian outlaws called “bush rangers”. Whenever someone was killed and robbed, these men provided alibis for each other, making it impossible to bring them to justice. Finally a murder was seen by reliable witnesses, and again the gang provided witnesses who claimed that the murderer was in an all-night poker game with them and could not possibly be the guilty party. The miners realized that they had no legal protection and formed a vigilante group called Club 101. That night they lynched all the gang members they could find. It was a gruesome story, with bodies hanging from trees, store signs, and other convenient locations. Club 101 also left notes warning any remaining gang members  to be out of town by sunset or face the same fate. By noon all gang members had left town.

There is no indication that any family members were involved, but it was news that was long remembered.

Friday, October 11, 2019


My Buchanan ancestors left Ireland during the Great Irish Famine. They had travelled north to the port of Londonderry, where they booked passage on a sailing ship for Canada. But after 10 days at sea they ran into a terrible storm. Sometimes they feared that they would sink. Mercifully, that did not happen, but the ship was damaged so badly that it had to return for repairs.

On the second attempt, a “plague of immigrant fever” broke out on the ship. These illnesses were incurable with the primitive medicines of that time. When the family arrived in Canada, the official quarantine station at Grosse Isle, Quebec was already beyond capacity. So their ship was sent up the St Lawrence River to Kingston, Ontario for quarantine. There, the father, Andrew Buchanan, and the baby of William Buchanan died of the sickness. After being released from quarantine, they came west and settled in a wilderness of huge trees that neighbors called Buchananville, later named Donegal, Perth County, Ontario.

On Thanksgiving Day, let us pause to be thankful for the many blessings we enjoy and for the sacrifices of earlier generations that made it possible!

I Love Old Photos

A little over a week ago I had a phone call.

"A trunk and two boxes of Sally's genealogy needs to be moved and I do not have a place for it. I wonder if you would be willing to go through it and see what needs to be kept."

If the phone call had come when we still lived on the acreage, I would have had no problem. But now I live in a rented apartment and do not have extra storage space. Still I owe a lot to Aunt Sally. Most of the research on my wife's mother's lines was done by Sally. And I hate to think of research being lost, so I agreed to look at it. Besides, I had some hope of finding Sally's lost personal history.

The next day the items were delivered, and I was pleased to see that one box was entirely made-up of old photos. Excitedly, I found some familiar faces, and many that were not familiar. Almost half of the photos were identified by writing on the back,

For the next week or so, my "spare time" was taken up by scanning, editing, uploading to FamilySearch, and tagging. This took about 25 hours, but I was glad to do it. I have been able to save many of these photos for posterity.

The fate of the physical box of photos is still uncertain, but digital copies are now preserved online.I wonder what I will find in the trunk ... maybe Sally's lost personal history? I hope so. She was a remarkable person, Her talents were many and were developed to enrich the lives of family, friends and neighbors: poetry, gardening,flower arranging, calligraphy. cake decorating, liquid embroidery, ceramics (from mixing the clay to the final firing in her very own electric kiln), and that just scratches the surface.

She was also a woman of great faith, who embraced the restored gospel taught by the missionaries and spent the rest of her life serving joyfully in the church, She sent her two sons off to teach the gospel in distant lands, and in her old age, she saw one of her sons baptize her beloved husband. She has a special place in my heart. I will help to preserve her efforts.