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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Saga of My Mysterious Steele Family

I love it when I receive an email from someone I have never heard of, but whom I can easily identify as a cousin. 

The Steele family were a mystery to me for a long time. Dad and his brother and sister knew very little about this aunt and uncle of theirs. Their information was basically:

"Frank died in a mill explosion, and Minnie died giving birth to twins." 

Since the rest of the George Watson family moved from Michigan to Alberta in 1903, I searched Alberta fruitlessly for years. Then when the internet became available, I found the George Watson family in the 1881 Canada census and I discovered that her name was actually Mary E. (Mary Elizabeth according to her birth record.)

1881 Census Place: Turnberry, Huron North, Ontario, Canada  April 1881
Source: FHL Film 1375909  NAC C-13273  Dist 175  SubDist B  Div 2  Page 17  Family 67
Sex Marr Age Origin Birthplace
George WATSON M M 39 Scottish O  Occ: Farmer       Religion:Weslyan Methodist
Jane WATSON F M 38 Scottish O Religion: Congregational
George A. WATSON M 10 Scottish O Religion:Congregational
Mary E. WATSON F 7 Scottish O Religion: Congregational
Margaret A. WATSON F 5 Scottish O Religion: Congregational
Richd.Joe. WATSON M 2 Scottish O Religion:Congregational
Eliza Jane WATSON F <1 span="" style="white-space: pre;">
Scottish O Religion:Congregational[Some years are off slightly, and Richd.Joe should be Richd.Jas, but plainly it is the correct family.]

This information helped me to find the marriage of Frank and Minnie in Michigan about 15 years earlier than I originally expected. 

Extracted marriage record for locality listed in the record.
Search performed using PAF Insight on 16 Oct 2006
Mary E. Watson; Female; Birth: , , Canada; Father: George Watson; Mother: Jane Watson; Spouse: Frank Steele; Marriage: 16 JUL 1891 Sault Sainte Marie, Chippewa, Michigan; Batch No.: M018016 Dates: Source Call No.: Type: Printout Call No.: Type: Film Sheet:

This led to finding older children that my family never mentioned. Some of them are listed in the 1910 census.

1910 US Census
name: Frank Steele birthplace: Wisconsin relationship to head of household: Self
residence: Raber, Chippewa, Michigan marital status: Married race : White
gender: Male immigration year: father's birthplace: Scotland
mother's birthplace: United States
family number: 76 page number: 4
  Household Gender Age Birthplace
self Frank Steele M 39y Wisconsin
wife Mary E Steele F 36y Canada
son William G Steele M 16y Michigan
son Robert G Steele M 14y Michigan
dau Lucy M Steele F 9y Michigan
dau Marth A Steele F 7y Michigan [Myrtle]
son Eal T Steele M 2y Michigan [Earl T.]
"United States Census, 1910," index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 08 Dec 2012), Frank Steele, Raber, Chippewa, Michigan; citing sheet 4B, family 76, NARA microfilm publication T624, FHL microfilm 1374654.

By the 1920 census the parents are both tragically dead.
United States Census, 1920 Residence , Chippewa, Michigan
Household Gender Age
 William J Steele  M 26y
 Lacy M Steele  F 18y [Lucy M.]
 Myrtle A Steele  F 16y
 Carl F Steele  M 11y [Earl T.]
 Frank A Steele  M 9y7m

My family said "They had Nate, Nellie, and Jeanie, who were adopted by Uncle George Allan Watson and his wife Carrie. Then Carrie left and moved to Ohio with all of the kids but Ralph who was rather slow and could only do farm work."

In the Alberta Provincial Archives I found the parish register for the Millett Methodist Church. Well! Nate was the biological child of Allan and Carrie! He was not the child of Frank and Minnie. 

The pieces were starting to come together. But who were the twins? Obviously they were not Nate and Nellie, so they must have been Nellie and Jeannie. This document helped:

Border Crossing, July 31, 1913
Watson  George 70 Farmer      Canada     USA Mich  Raber Mich  Millet Alta  $100
Watson  Jane     71 housewife Canada     USA Mich  Raber Mich  Millet Alta
- to join son Richard
Steel     Mary       4 mos          USA Mich  USA Mich  Raber Mich  Millet Alta  
Steel     Elizabeth 4 mos          USA Mich  USA Mich  Raber Mich  Millet Alta  
- wards of grandparents Mr & Mrs Geo Watson
calls Nellie Elizabeth, so Jeannie is Mary.

Nellie died in Toledo of polio. 
Name: Nellie Watson Titles: Death date: 13 Dec 1926
Death place: Toledo, Lucas, Ohio Birth date: Estimated birth year: 1913
Birth place: Age at death: 13 years 7 months 27 days
Gender: Female Marital status: Race or color:
Street address: Occupation: Residence:
Burial date: Burial place: Cemetery name:
Spouse name:
Father name: Frank Steele Father titles: Father birth place:
Mother name: Elizabeth Watson Mother titles: Mother birth place:
GSU film number: 1984618 Digital GS number: 4024345
Image number: 332 Reference number: fn 75959
Collection: Ohio Deaths 1908-1953

Image requires sign-in:

Jeannie died some time prior to Nellie, and she probably died at Millet, Alberta, Canada as I cannot find her death in the Toledo Blade obit index or other Ohio records. 

What a sad story! Minnie died on 22 Jun 1913 of heart failure, apparently triggered by the birth of the twins. Frank died on 02 Jun 1918 in a massive boiler explosion in Bartlett's sawmill, at Shelldrake, Whitefish Twp, Chippewa, Michigan. They were both young. Frank was only 47. They had a large family, and some of the children were very young. The twins, baby girls that my family knew as Jeannie and Nellie, both died young. Nellie was only 13 at the time of her death and Jeannie would have been even younger. 

I have been helped by Watson and Steele cousins to fill in the gaps . Most recently, by the cousin who contacted me last week and was able to give me the names of Earl's descendants. In return I sent her a PDF copy of a Watson Family Tree book I created in 2007, where there is minimal information about the Steele family, but good information on most of the other Watson descendants. 

I invite any further information or corrections. 

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Those Safe Old Horse & Buggy Days? Not!!!

A Bullet Hole In The Old Sewing Machine 
As I was growing up, Mom (Dorothy) had an old Singer treadle (pedal-powered) sewing machine. She made much of our clothing on that old machine that was given to them by Dad (George's) aunt, Maggie. One day I asked about the bullet hole in one of the left hand drawers of the sewing machine.

Dad explained that as a boy, he was at Aunt Maggie's house visiting his cousins, and one of them was cleaning a 22 rifle.  The boy clicked the trigger without checking to make sure there was no shell in the chamber. The bullet went through the cabinet of the sewing machine and ricocheted off its steel frame, embedding itself in the heel of Dad's boot! But other than the tell-tale bullet hole in the sewing machine, no harm was done that day.

A Runaway Wagon 
Money for presents was scarce on the farm. George and Dorothy had decided that they could buy their little boys a toy wagon by gathering the bottles thrown out along the dirt road by the truckers. George intended to take his horses Pet and Dobbin, but George's brother Jack and his wife Tina were visiting, and Jack suggested that George take his team and wagon, as they were already hitched up. George took Bill [me] and Reg, aged about 6 and 5 at the time, along with him. He was enjoying pretty good success when Jack's horses, Sandy and Babe, smelled a bear and bolted for home. George ran as fast as he could, but couldn't catch the wagon pulled by the panicked horses.

As he ran and walked towards home, he would pass shattered bottles that had fallen from the wagon onto the cement-hard dirt road. Around every corner and over every hill he feared he might find the dead or mangled body of one of his two little boys, crushed by the steel tires of the wooden wagon wheels.

As the wagon drew near George's house, Jack remarked "George sure is driving fast! He must be trying to get home before the storm." But the team and wagon went thundering past, on their way to Jack's farm, nearly a mile farther east.

Seeing that the horses weren't stopping at our house, Bill decided to jump off the wagon. Fortunately he jumped from the back of the wagon and landed safely on the road. The old car seat that Reg was sitting on fell off the back of the wagon as the team was climbing the hill on the far side of the Little Moose creek, taking Reg with it. He also was unharmed. George was very relieved when he realized that both children were safe.

By the time the horses pulled into Jack's driveway, the wagon-bed, made of loose planks had fallen apart. If the boys had remained in the wagon they might have been hurt or killed. (Some days guardian angels have to work extra hard.)

A Surprisingly Successful Hunting Trip 
When "Pa" Buchanan and his sons George and Jack lived six miles west of Breton, Alberta in the 1940s there were few residents in the area, and most of the farmers depended on wild game to help feed themselves and their families. George liked to hunt with his 30-30 Winchester from back of his horse, Pet.

On one occasion, George was out hunting near Alder Flats and spotted a moose. He fired at the moose, and it went down, then stood up again, so George fired again. Again the moose went down. When he got closer, he was amazed to discover that he had killed two moose that were in his line of fire. A very successful hunting trip! To bring the meat home, a friend loaned him a wagon with the wagon box disguised as a load of lumber. It was felt that although the local RCMP were somewhat tolerant of the farmers' hunting big game out of season to feed their families, there was no need to borrow trouble.

Saved By A Short Plank 
While George Buchanan was working at the sawmill at Antross, Alberta with Marvin Burris and Steve Grzyb, they were cleaning out the burner. They had made a wagon box out of scrap lumber. He was bent over doing some work along the edge of the burner. For some reason, the team of horses suddenly backed up the wagon, pinning his head against the side of the burner. One of his co-workers thought that George was dead for sure. But the other one didn't think that a dead man could yell that loud! George's life was saved by the fact that one of the planks making up the wagon bed was shorter than the others. If his neck had been slightly to one side or the other it would have been crushed for sure!

His neck was boxed-in by wood on all sides, and the horses were so skittish it was impossible to tell what they might do next. Marvin grabbed the halters of the horses to hold them in place, while Steve blocked the wagon wheels, then Marvin ran to the barn and got another team and two more men to help rescue George. They were able to unhook the spooked horses and hook-up the other team to pull the wagon away from the burner, freeing George from the trap he was in.