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 https://familysearch.org This is very rewarding. I have helped others with the Family Tree and related FamilySearch products.
Since April 2010, I have served 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 http://mormon.org/

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Filling in the Gaps in a Life Story

Just when I think I have Great Aunt Margaret Matilda figured out, she has a surprise in store.  

I have known for 50 years that prior to her marriage to Robert John "Red Bob" Buchanan, my grandfather's brother, she was married to a man named Harvey Tibbetts. I had found them living in Iowa in the 1880 US census.

1880 United States Census
Census Place: Valley, Pottawattamie, Iowa
Source: FHL Film 1254361 National Archives Film T9-0361   Page 161 D
          Relation Sex Marr Race Age   Birthplace
Harvay TIBBETTS Self M M W 29 CANADA    Occ: Farmer Fa:VT Mo. CANADA
Margaret TIBBETTS   Wife F M   W 18   CANADA    Occ: Keeps House Fa: IRE.  Mo: IRE

This week Ancestry sent me this hint:
Iowa, Select Marriages Index, 1758-1996
Name: Harvey Tibbitts
Gender: Male
Marriage Date: 19 Feb 1880
Marriage Place: Pottawattamie, Iowa
Spouse: Margaret M. Abrahams
FHL Film Number: 1018502
Reference ID: P 275

The pieces all fit together except the surname Abrahams. She was only 18 at the time of this marriage so a previous marriage is possible but not likely. I try to keep an open mind, remembering that Maggie was not beyond inventing "facts" when she found it convenient. But in this case, why invent a different surname? 

She often said was given away by her mother Bessie Glenn when she was a small child.
Her granddaughter, Jean Hunter said “They dressed her up real cute and had her dance on the table so the neighbors would think she was cute and take her to live with them!” Also to kind of confirm this Mavis Johnson Buchanan (Uncle Eddie's daughter-in-law) told me years ago that "When Granny Gilberds [Bessie Glenn] hitched up with Henry, he did not want to have anything to do with the Buchanan kids!"

Maybe that foster family's name was Abrahams. This record shows some promise of being the foster family of Margaret Matilda Buchanan, my great Aunt: 

1871 Census of Canada 
Name:    Margaret Abraham
Gender:    Female
Age:    8
Birth Year:    1863
Birth Place:    Ontario
Religion:    Church Of England
Origin:    Irish
Province:    Ontario
District:    Perth North
District Number:    30
Division:    04
Subdistrict:    Elma
Subdistrict Number:    e
Household Members    
Name    Age
Thomas Abraham    50
Barbara Abraham    45
Robert Abraham    22
William Abraham    20
Joseph Abraham    17
Margaret Abraham    8

This fits nicely. I note the the 9 year gap between Joseph and Margaret, her age, the locality. Elma is where the James Buchanan family lived. The origin for the whole family is given as Irish, so it is not a useful clue.

Here is the James Buchanan family in 1861. Margaret was born about 1862.
1861 Census
Buchanan James Farmer Ireland Wes. Meth Elma 36 Married Male Lot 25 Concession 11
Buchanan Elizabeth Ireland Wes. Meth Elma 22? Married Female
Buchanan M. J. Upper Canada  Wes. Meth Elma 2 Single Female
Buchanan Andrew Upper Canada  Wes. Meth Elma 1 Single Male

According to the local history "The Elmanac", page 566, a William Abraham bought Lot 32 in Concession 12 in 1866. From the map in the Elmanac, this property looks to be about 4 miles from there the James Buchanan family was living in 1861, This would be the William Abraham aged 30 in the 1861 census of Elma, living with Thomas, and presumably a younger brother.

1861 Census  Canada West > Perth
28 Thomas Abraham Male 38 1823 Ireland Married
29 Barbary Abraham Female 40 1821 Ireland Married
30 Robert Abraham Male 12 1849 Ireland Single
31 W Henry Abraham Male 10 1851 Ireland Single
32 Joseph Abraham Male 8 1853 Upper Canada Single
33 Wm Abraham Male 30 1831 Ireland Single

This William is the only Abraham mentioned in The Elmanac, and there is no biography for him. 

The Thomas Abraham family appear to have moved to Pottawattamie county, Iowa in the late 1870s, which would explain how Maggie got there. 

The parents and the two youngest sons are in the 1880 census, but spelled Abram.
1880 United States Federal Census > Iowa, Pottawattamie, Valley, 188
Abram Thomas White Male 55 1825 Self Married Ireland Ireland Ireland
Abram Barbery White Female 55 1825 Wife Married Ireland Ireland Ireland
Abram William White Male 27 1853 Son Single Ireland Ireland Ireland
Abram Joseph White Male 25 1855 Son Single Canada Ireland Ireland

Maggie, of course is in the same census as Margaret Tibbetts. 
William and Joseph both married there as well. William married Mary Jane Armstrong.
Joseph married Sarah Armstrong. Both wives were born in Ontario, and may be sisters.

Harvey Tibbetts seems to have died in 1881 or 1882, because Maggie married Robert John Buchanan in Minnedosa, Manitoba, Canada on 10 Dec 1883. In between, Maggie apparently went back to Ontario, then followed other Buchanans to western Manitoba. The other members of the Abraham family also moved back to Ontario. I find no records of Robert Abraham after 1871. William Abraham, the brother of Thomas stayed in Ontario, and married Elizabeth Fullerton, daughter of Thomas and Ellen Fullerton on 2 Apr 1880 in  Perth county, Ontario. He lists his parents as William and Mary Abraham of County Fermanagh, Ireland. 

Maggie later forgave her father, but continued to feel hurt that her mother had given her away. Her daughter Isabell (ever a peacemaker) told her, "I am sure that Grandma did what she thought was best for you. She probably couldn't provide for you." To which Maggie would reply, "No one is ever that poor! We raised 14 children!" Maggie and "Red Bob" had 8 children of their own, and raised 6 others. 

Maggie was one of the people for whom I have a special fondness. These records have filled in gaps in her personal story. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Villain or Victim?

As family historians we are serious about preserving family stories and passing them along to future generations. Hopefully, some of these stories will provide good examples to follow or bad examples to be avoided. But we need to be aware that some of the stories are biased and incomplete.

For example, in the following story, was "John" a villain or a victim? The undisputed facts seem to be that John and his wife "Mary" separated in 1944 or 1945. She became mentally ill and neglected the children for days at a time. Her illness may have started with severe postpartum depression, but she spent the rest of her life in institutions, gradually improving over time. John disappeared from the family's knowledge for nearly 20 years.

Ontario Child Protection Services removed the children from the home and prepared to place them for adoption. But Mary's mother did not want to lose her grandchildren. She used her limited resources to hire a lawyer and applied for custody of the grandchildren. She was eventually successful, and brought the children to Alberta. She and her other daughter's family raised the children, who grew up, married and raised families of their own.

Did John's abandonment of the family trigger Mary's mental illness, or did her mental illness cause her to evict him from her home? Opinions may differ. Obviously Mary was not responsible for her illness. Was John just another a "deadbeat dad" who abandoned his family when they needed him most? What sort of person was he?

In the past few days I received three snapshots of John taken when he was a young man.
This letter that accompanied the photos, gives an unbiased and unsolicited appraisal of his character.
I have sent these on to John and Mary's children and grandchildren.

Aug 28, 2016
Hi Bill,
Sorry for not getting back to you sooner. These are the only photos I have of [John] and family.
Please note, he was a good friend of my Dad and my Grandpa, and they always had positive things to say about him. Sometimes these kinds of affirmations come from without, don't they?
 When you view the photos and have anything to add, please get in contact with me
Sincerely,
Bill 

In the photos, I noticed that John is wearing a stripe on the sleeve of his uniform, so he was a lance-corporal (private first class). Obviously he was considered a good soldier. I also notice that the tee-shirt says CANADA ... ARMY TANK ... So he served in a tank regiment, which I had not been aware of, although I had researched his ancestors. We know almost nothing of his military service.

Maybe this letter will help us to appreciate a man who was largely unknown to his own family, but was still remembered and loved many years later by his friends as a good man. (Remember that Bill was looking for any of John's family when he found that I had been researching this family. I wasn't looking for him.)

And maybe I will be a little more cautious of giving one side of the story without trying to find the other side of the story. Maybe John and Mary were both victims of her illness. I would like to think so.