Saturday, 1 April 2017

Railway lines and trains for the Battle of Vimy Ridge

Here in Canada, we're preparing for the 100th anniversary of the Battle at Vimy Ridge on April 9. This battle, that is regarded as the turning point in Canadian history, paved the way to Allied victory in the Great War. The Vimy Ridge Foundation has this about the importance of this battle. The upcoming anniversary got me to wondering again about any part my grandfather may have played in it.

My grandfather, John Matheson (1884-1964), was a sapper in the Canadian Railway Construction Corps (RCC) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His full personnel file was digitized last year by Library and Archives Canada. I wrote about his file and him here, for Remembrance Day 2016.

John Matheson service record
Honestly? I'm disappointed that his personnel didn't reveal more information about where he was posted--much of the file deals with pay and medical and is silent on which RCC battalions he served in or where, more specifically, he served. So I got to researching and was rewarded to find a 1919 nine-page government report summarizing the RCC's activities.

A key statement caught my eye:

"…the Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Corps proceeded to France in August, 1915. This Unit was made up of 500 picked men from the construction forces of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Each man before enlisting was required to pass a test as to his technical ability before he joined the unit which was the pioneer Canadian Railway Construction Unit in France."

This corresponds with what I know. My grandfather signed his attestation papers in March 1915, and spent three months training in Canada before shipping out to England in June 1915. Within days of my grandparents' London marriage, he was shipped out to France on 25 August. He spent the next two years there and in Belgium, with short annual leaves back to my grandmother in England.

There were ten Railway Construction Troop batallions on the British Western Front by 1917, and according to the report I found, they played a key supporting part in the Battle at Vimy Ridge. During the German retreat after the Battle at Somme in late 2016, government report referenced above notes that the railway construction troops "were able to push forward standard gauge and railway lines with surprising rapidity in spite of the obstacles and difficulties imposed by atrocious weather and the thoroughness of the destruction left by the enemy in the wake of his retreat......the Canadian Railway Troops had laid steel to within a short distance to the front line" at Vimy.

I found more specific details about the work of the RCC in this 1993 Canadian Rail article.

Today, the Battle at Vimy Ridge is memorialized in a stunning monument unveiled and dedicated in July 1934. Remarkably, it was untouched during the Second World War despite ferocious bombing and fighting all around it. Over the years though, wear and tear and a patchwork of repairs occurred. The memorial was restored and rededicated in 2007, on the 90th anniversary of the Battle.

I could not end this post especially without a link to one of Historica Canada's iconic Heritage Minutes about Vimy Ridge.

I am so thankful that my grandfather survived the war, and am happy to learn about his contributions towards Canada's success at Vimy Ridge.

The never ending story continues....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved

Sunday, 26 March 2017

A DNA disappointment

Not all DNA discoveries are satisfying, I learned this week.

Several years ago, I found a tree on Ancestry that, as well as being Dougherty, had similar names to my Dougherty ancestors, and the added bonus? This Dougherty had originally settled in South Hero, Vermont in the 19th century.

South Hero is where my 2nd great grandfather Marcus Dougherty originally settled after arriving from Dungiven, Ireland. His brother James, who became a Congregationalist minister, also initially settled in South Hero, before moving on to the nearby villages of first Milton and then Johnson.

I should mention that yes, there were other Dougherty families in those areas of Vermont in the early to mid 19th century, and no, so far there is no DNA connection with any of them.

But, what were the chances that this Dougherty could not be a relation of mine? I mean really. I was seized with this idea for years. Literally.

For several years, the owner of that Ancestry tree and I messaged back and forth sporadically. Earlier this year, he announced that he was doing the AncestryDNA test. This was exciting news. His results came back this week, and much to our shared dismay, we don't appear on each other's lists of DNA matches. Nor does he appear on my siblings' or cousin's DNA matches. At my suggestion, he uploaded his raw data to This is a site where people can post their raw DNA data from tests conducted by Ancestry, 23 And Me and Family Tree DNA, but it also gives a much more details breakdown of DNA, chromosome by chromosome. Yes, there really are that many genealogy geeks like me out there.

I compared our DNA on GEDMatch, and we share only a very small amount of DNA in one chromosome, not enough to consider us relatives on any level. Boom.

He's now trying to figure out his next steps in his hunt for his ancestors. And me? As I say,

The never ending story continues.....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved

Immigrant Ancestor -- Edmund Hobart (abt 1570-1646)

Another 10th great grandfather of mine was Edmund Hobart, who arrived with his wife and several grown children (the number varies) in New England in 1633. His son, Rev Peter Hobart was a vicar in England, but held strong Puritan beliefs and ran afoul of "the strict doctrines of Anglican England", which led the Hobart family and other Puritans to leave for New England.  

Soon after their arrival, Edmund, his sons Peter and Joshua and other recent arrivals from Norfolk, were the original settlers of Hingham, which today is part of Greater Boston. The town was incorporated as Hingham in 1635, named after their former home village, Hingham in Norfolk. It was a town born of religious descent, according to this Wikipedia entry.

Edmund Hobart and his wife Margaret (Dewey), said the Puritan minister Cotton Mather, "were eminent for piety...and feared God above many". Together, they had at least nine children. Margaret seems to have died not long after they arrived at Charlestown in 1633. He went on to marry two more times, fathering more children, before he died in 1646.

Edmund is the descendant of a family "established in East Anglia for many centuries", says one source. One of his brothers, Henry Hobart (abt 1560-1625), was a distinguished politician and barrister, and was knighted in 1603. The name has appeared as Hubbard or Hoberd, but Hobart became the most common spelling. Edmund's great grandfather, James Hobart, was knighted during the reign of Henry VII.

Colonial Families of the USA
Edmund himself must have been a man of some substance, because he was able to afford to send his son Peter to Cambridge University. Says this entry about him, "a university education in those days was a luxury only indulged in by the well-to-do".

Edmund was a well regarded senior member of the Hingham settlement in New England, serving as constable and a commissioner (the equivalent to today's justice of the peace).

I descend from Edmund and Margaret through their daughter Rebecca (1611-1655), who married another immigrant ancestor, Edward Bangs (abt 1591-1677) as his probable third wife.

The never ending story continues....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Brick Wall -- the Diamonds

I have a brick wall with my 2nd great grandmother, Mary Ann Diamond (abt 1802-1842). I know absolutely nothing about her parentage.

The records at the Dungiven church where she and my 2nd great grandfather Marcus Dougherty (1794-1864) likely married only go back to 1825.

Scrolling through Find My Past's excellent Irish collection, I see that the Diamond name was very common across what is now Derry and Antrim in the north, in places like Magherafelt, Ballymoney and Coleraine. But I have no leads at all. Are there clues to Mary Ann's family in the names of her children? Was her eldest daughter Catharine named after Mary Ann's mother? Was her third born son John James named after her father? Her other children's names, Thomas, Isabella, James and Mary Louisa are names used in my Dougherty lines. Her last born son was Joseph. Could that be a name on the Diamond side?

Maybe I'll check church records in Magherafelt, Ballymoney and Coleraine for a marriage record of my 2nd great grandparents.

Another mystery is if the origins of the Diamonds in Ireland were Jewish. Did my line eventually assimilate or convert? The history of Jews in Ireland is an interesting read. A really interesting read. They were always a small community, even more so in the 21st century.

My grandfather included the name Diamond in his fourth son's name. He in turn passed it on to his own son.

Sometimes just when you think a mystery will never be solved, a crack appears in a brick wall. I'm waiting for that in my Diamond line.

The never ending story continues.....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Immigrant Ancestor and Brick Wall -- Thomas Butler (1781-aft 1819?)

Sometimes are more challenging than others when writing about my immigrant ancestors. This is one of those times. In fact it's a brick wall.

I don't have a record of the death of my 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Butler, but he probably died in Nova Scotia after moving there with my 3rd great grandmother, Mary Southwick (1788-1865) some time after their 1806 Massachusetts marriage. Their son Samuel my 2nd great grandfather, was born in Halifax on 16 Mar 1816. That date is relied on by many researchers, but I'm still looking for more confirmation of that. Perhaps it comes from a long ago family bible.

Back to Thomas. He was born, like so many of my ancestors, on Cape Cod, in Falmouth. His parents were Captain (he was a sea captain) John Butler (1751-1794) and Parnel (also spelled as Parnal) Hatch (1759-1842). He was their eldest son. John, according to one story, was lost at sea, serving with the British Navy. Thomas was the only one of his siblings to go to Nova Scotia, so far as I know. A few years ago, I found a listing of the births of John and Parnel's children, with Thomas as the eldest listed first.

Falmouth, Massachusetts vital records, 1750-1831, v2
I've never found Nova Scotia arrival records for Thomas Butler and Mary Southwick, and I've never found a record of Thomas' death. Several researchers say that in addition to my 2nd great grandfather, Samuel, that Thomas and Mary possibly had three other sons. No surviving source information on any of them seems to exist (and I've looked), aside from their names and possible birth dates: Thomas b 1810, James b 1812 and Sames (?) b 1819. I've often thought that James and Sames are the same person. But apparently Sames does exist as a given name. James was the name of his grandfather, James Southwick, and following the generally accepted naming patterns of the time, it seems likely that this is fairly solid. But whatever happened to James Butler?

Mary Southwick Butler died in 1865, in Stewiacke, Colchester, Nova Scotia, likely in her son Samuel's home, which has always made me think that perhaps if Samuel did have brothers, they all died young.

I don't know Thomas' occupation -- was he a seaman like his father or a blacksmith like his son, or a farmer? I don't know where he died or where he's buried.

Some of my indirect Butler ancestors were United Empire Loyalists, a third cousin tells me. But not my direct Butler ancestors.

Despite all of these negatives, to end on a positive note, by fathering his son Samuel, Thomas was responsible for one of my several lines putting down Nova Scotia roots, so I do appreciate him for that. And Samuel? Well, he fathered 17 children (!) by two different wives. But that's another story for another time.

The never ending story continues.....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Another DNA chapter revealed

The other day, a second sibling's DNA results came through. DNA is always interesting. We each inherit 50 per cent of each parent's DNA, but obviously not the same 50 per cent. That's what makes DNA testing for genealogy so intriguing.

Here are the high level snapshots of our respective ethnicity estimates. I've mentioned how pleased I am with my own DNA ethnicity estimates here before. Proud Celtic Viking here!

But it turns out that my sister has even more Irish DNA than I have. Both of us are low in terms of British ethnicity, with me at six per cent and my sister at five per cent. Our brother shames us both though, having a whopping 27 per cent British ethnicity. I can hear our mother, who was very proud of her UK passport, in another dimension cheering and saying. "That's what I'm talking about!"

As to that Scandinavian (Viking!) ethnicity? I win that, having 24 per cent, with my brother having 14% and my sister having just 11% Scandinavian ancestry.

So far, AncestryDNA has found for me 116 4th cousins or closer (in the 18 months since my sample was processed); 100 4th cousins or closer for my sister (in seven months), and 172 4th cousins or closer for my brother (in two days).

Of those cousins, I share 43 shared ancestry hints with my sister, and 58 shared ancestry hints with my brother. We're all different, after all.

My brother's DNA results don't help crack into new Dougherty DNA leads, unfortunately. I was really hoping for some new finds on that line. But he does win, hands down, in terms of being the most British of us.

I have a third sibling, but sadly, he's not interested in any DNA testing.

At the same time as my brother's DNA results came, his wife's also arrived. Now in her case, my sister in law starts out with 768 4th cousins or closer. Yikes. I'll be plowing through those for quite awhile.

This marks my 100th post to this blog. To mark the occasion, I've given the blog a bit of a makeover. Thank you all for reading. I hope you continue to enjoy my family history stories and meanderings.

The never ending story continues.....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved

Friday, 24 February 2017

The Gillies sisters of Nethy Bridge come to Canada

Forgive me for seemingly being on a DNA binge, but I have had yet another cousin relationship confirmed by DNA.

A few years ago, a woman messaged me on Ancestry to say she had seen similarities in both our family trees. This connection opened so many doors for me in my research, as often happens. Until this cousin contacted me, I hadn't known that my great grandmother Annie Ross (1850-1922 had siblings and eight nieces (!! but just one nephew), the children of her sister, Margaret Grace Darling Ross, known as Maggie (1847-1932).

My latest confirmed DNA cousin is a great great granddaughter of Maggie, who lived with her husband James Gillies (1847-1906) and their family in Nethy Bridge, the same Cairngorms village in Inverness-shire where my paternal great grandparents lived with their family. In 1906 and 1908, four of Maggie's daughters, Mary, Jessie, Robina and her namesake Maggie; emigrated from the Scottish Highlands to make their home in Toronto. I wonder why they chose Toronto? Likely they already knew someone there. Their cousin, my grandfather John Matheson (1884-1964) followed them to Canada in 1907, but he chose Montreal for his home.

The sisters all took jobs as servants in Toronto, and between 1908 and 1914, each married. Three sisters stayed in Toronto, but the youngest, Robina Gillies (1888-1969) moved to Los Angeles with her husband Ben Kelly (1884-1939) in 1919, after their only child, Jackie, tragically died aged only seven in January of that year from bronchial pneumonia.

Maggie Gillies Wood
Maggie Gillies (1874-aft 1931) and her husband John Thomas Wood (abt 1857-1931) had no children. Nor did her sister Jessie Darling Mary Gillies (1880-1931) and her husband Thomas Devereux (1881-?)

Mary Gillies Bennett
My 3rd cousin once removed is the great granddaughter of Mary Gillies (1878-1929), who died after being struck by a streetcar in Toronto, leaving her husband Peter Bennett (1870-?) and their children Peter and Annabelle. The January 10, 1929 edition of the Toronto Star carried this very brief death notice for Mary:
"Bennett - On Wednesday, January 9th 1929, at Toronto. Mary Bennett, 7 Grove Avenue, in her 50th year. Funeral private from Bert Humphrey's Funeral Parlors, 466 Church Street Friday afternoon. Interment Prospect Cemetery."
Did the Gillies sisters stay in touch with my grandfather John Matheson in Montreal by letter and phone calls? I suspect so. Since he was a locomotive engineer with CN, he probably went through Toronto from time to time. Letter writing was the great social pastime of that era. I do have a memory of my mother mentioning that her father had a cousin in California -- that would have been Robina.

My cousin is lucky to have photos of her great grandmother and great aunt, and has kindly let me use these here. Not for the first time do I wonder what happened to my families' photos. I have a couple of shoeboxes worth of photos from the late 19th and early 20th century with absolutely nothing to identify the people pictured. This is a great frustration.

My cousin and I live just a couple of hours' drive apart. We're so pleased to be in touch, but we still haven't met face to face. We need to make that happen.

The never ending story continues.....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved

Monday, 20 February 2017

Still more adventures in DNA discoveries

A couple of years ago, I researched a friend's ancestry. We had decided that we must be related, as our Scots ancestors lived in many of the same places. Researching his line didn't shed any light on any possible relationship.

In December, my friend sent off his DNA sample to AncestryDNA. The results came a couple of weeks ago, but still no relationship confirmed by that test.

This morning, I compared our DNA data on another utility. Turns out we're distant cousins. The estimated number of generations to our most recent common ancestor is 7.4. We share 7.9 Centimorgans of DNA in chromosome 10 -- the chart below summarizes our relationship.  But hey! I've had people with whom I share less DNA reach out to me. What's a centimorgan you ask? Here is an explanation.

The never ending story continues....

© Margaret Dougherty 2016-2017 All rights reserved