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

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Mystery of Randolph Shewan

Over the years I have inherited a lot of old photos. In some cases I know who is in them and in some cases I do not. And then there are those where the people are identified and I still don't know how they connect to the family. Randolph Shewan falls into the latter category. I have a copy of an 1880 photograph of this handsome fellow, but who is he? His age is about right to be a younger brother or cousin of Mary Elizabeth Shewan, the first wife of my grandfather's first cousin James A. Buchanan. And the photo was passed down through the descendants of Mary Elizabeth Shewan, which indicates that there is a connection.

At I find him in multiple US census records as an adult. But who were his parents?

I did some more searching for Randolph Shewan, born 1861 in Utah.

This 1870 census record includes a Shewan family that seems to fit our Shewans.
Note: M.E. Shewan who is born in Pennsylvania in 1856 is probably Mary Elizabeth, who is already known to be born in that time and place, and a J.R. Shewan is shown as born in Utah in 1861, which matches Randolph's known year and place of birth.
Wm Shewan M 45y England
M E Shewan F 41y England
Eliza Shewan F 16y England
M E Shewan F 14y Pennsylvania
J R Shewan M 9y Utah
W H Shewan M 6y Utah
Annie Shewan F 2y Nevada

And Randolph's death certificate gives his father's name as William W Shewan, which matches the 1870 census:
name: Randolph Shewan
death date: 09 Apr 1934
death place: Seattle, King, Washington
gender: Male
race (displayed on form):
age at death: 71 years 8 months 22 days
estimated birth year: 1863
birth date:  [It calculates to 18 Jul 1862.]
birth place:
marital status: Married
spouse's name: Mary Shewan
father's name: William W. Shewan
father's birth place:
mother's name: Unknown

I also found the death of John R. Shewan, which lists his parents as John R. Shewan and Parthenia Smith.
I found the marriage record for Randolph Shewan and Porthena Smith in 1883. California, County Marriages

Randolph was a widower when he married Mary Shumacher Shill on 20 Jan 1910 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. 
At that time he identified his father as William Shewan and his mother as Mary Taylor.

I think this proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Randolph Shewan (the handsome fellow in the 130 year-old handed-down family photo) is in fact a younger brother of Mary Elizabeth Shewan who married James A. Buchanan. His full name was apparently John Randoph Shewan, which matches the J R Shewan in the 1870 census, which also lists siblings I was unaware of.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Cemetery Research in Alberta and Beyond

Here are some resources I have used for cemetery research. Check nearby plots for other family members. The people in the next plot may be family members or in-laws with a different surname. Many large cemeteries have their own websites that can be especially useful. The more general sites are helpful if you do not know what cemetery someone is buried in.

When photographing grave stones, make sure the inscriptions are legible. They are more important than the design of the monument. Check the ground level of the monuments for obscured writing. Check for small secondary markers. Check the sexton records (cemetery books) for additional information. Remember that not all graves have markers. If you have a GPS, you can use it to record the location. Consider photographing the inscriptions and uploading  them to or as a way of helping others, and maybe connecting with others who are researching the same families. 

Cemetery Finding Aids
Cemetery Finding Aids may help you find a tombstone inscription that gives the year of birth or the names of other family members.
Ontario Cemetery Finding Aid
Find a Grave is international in scope, and is one of the most frequented web sites by genealogists.
Billion Graves This is a new international site that is gaining a lot of support.
David Obee's sites: and allows searches of cemeteries in different provinces. is the Alberta page.
The “Master Name List” at the Provincial Archives of Alberta (and at AGS) lists burials in central Alberta.

These are a mixed bag. They usually only list deaths since 2000. Some only have obits for the current month! But if you find an obit, it may have three generations of information! You will usually find them using a search engine. A few sites I have used are:
Edmonton Journal Obituaries (since January 2002 )
Saskatchwan Obituaries
Winnipeg Free Press Obituaries
Portage Daily Graphic Obituaries
British Columbia Newspaper Obituaries

Plan ahead. Good tips for your cemetery visit can be found many places on the internet, such as