Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Cousins killed in 1867 Harlow Bridge collapse at Northfield, Vermont

My great grandmother Rose had an older brother, Edward Caroline (1835-1867). They also had a younger first cousin, Thomas Caroline (1849-1867), the son of Michael Caroline and Julia Anne Ryan.

Original Harper's Weekly illustration 4 Jan 1868
Edward and Thomas both found work in just over the border from Granby in Vermont, working on railway construction for the Vermont Central Railroad.

I don't know how long they were doing this work before disaster struck, and this wasn't a work-related incident in the sense that it happened while they were working. Thirty-eight workers were returning by train to the construction site at Harlow Bridge from their lunch break. The engineer was asked to speed up so he could return to bring the rest of the workers back from lunch. The increased speed caused the train car to derail and plunge 25 feet before breaking in two, with the second piece plunging a further 60 feet. They were two of 15 fatalities in what was known as the Harlow Bridge Disaster on 11 Dec 1867.

Here is one relatively contemporary account written in 1878. And here is another:
"Harlow Bridge Train WreckThe accident near Northfield, Vermont on the Vermont Central Railroad on December 11, 1867, was the most destructive to life of any disaster which has ever occurred in the "Green Mountain State", since railroads were established. it occurred at which is known as the Harlow Bridge - a structure which spans a chasm some three hundred feet in width. Its abutments were sixty feet in heights, and its middle pier about seventy-five feet. This bridge was burned on December 8, and a heavy force of laborers had been employed in erecting trestle-work for temporary use. About a hundred of these men, having dined at Northfield, were returning to their labors on December 11 when the terrible calamity occurred. They were in a passenger car, and were being backed up to the works. By some unaccountable hallucination the engineer proceeded at an unusual rate of speed-sometimes running it as high as thirty miles an hour. He was reminded of his strange mistake by his fireman, but not till too late to avert the terrible consequences. The car, with its freight of some ninety men, was precipitated down a perpendicular distance of sixty feet. The tender broke from the engine and instantly followed. The scene was a fearful one. Fifteen dead men, with more than as many others suffering wounds more or less sever, lay in one heap, seven of whom were under the tender." -- Harper's Weekly Illustrated Journal, New York 4 Jan 1868
Local accounts identified the Vermont fatalities, but all uniformly didn't list the names of the Canadian fatalities, who numbered nine of the 15 killed.

The two Caroline families, large and close knit, were grief stricken. Thomas was only 18, with his whole life ahead of him. Edward was 32, the eldest child of Hugh Edward Caroline and Mary Donovan. He was unmarried.

Both were buried after a joint funeral on 16 Dec 1867 in the original cemetery of Notre Dame de Granby, which as I've mentioned in previous posts, was paved over for a parking lot decades later.

The never ending story continues....

Sunday, 13 November 2016

We Remember 3: Private Andrew Horne (1890-1917)

My mother had a first cousin, Andrew Horne (1908-1988) who was born out of wedlock to my great aunt Annie Matheson (1888-1918). Andrew's father wanted to marry Annie, but for reasons known only to her, refused. Andrew's birth was registered listing his birth father though, and he carried name.

British Army, de Ruvigny's Roll of Honour 1914-1918
After Annie refused to marry Andrew, he emigrated to the United States in about 1909, but returned to Scotland after the outbreak of the First World War to volunteer. Did he see his young namesake in Scotland during his brief times there?

Andrew's military career is recounted in remarkable detail, considering he was a private, in a British Army Roll of Honour.

Kingussie War Memorial
A private in the 12th Battalion of the Royal Scots, Andrew died at the month-long Battle of Arras in April 1917, one of 158,660 British casualties. He is buried at Brown's Copse Cemetery in Roeux, France. Andrew's name is included on a monument to First World War military casualties in Kingussie, Inverness-shire. Kingussie is down the road from Aviemore.

Kingussie War Memorial
I know that his son never knew a great deal about his birth father, or had a relationship with his birth father's family.

Finding out about my cousin Andrew's birth father's life made me feel that I had brought some of his history into the family. I'm just sorry that my research only happened long after he died.

The never ending story continues ....

We Remember 2: Private Frank Matheson 1892-1949

Updated 15 Aug 2019

My great uncle Frank arrived in Montreal from Scotland in 1912, a month before he turned 20, to join his older brother, John. Like my grandfather, Frank also worked on the railways, in his case as a fireman.

After the First World War broke out in August, Frank signed his attestation papers on 23 Sept 2014, joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force. I downloaded his complete digitized service file two days ago from Library and Archives Canada.

Attestation page 1
Frank was captured as a prisoner of war on the second day of the fierce month-long second battle of Ypres in Belgium, being first reported missing on 24 Apr 1915. He was officially confirmed as a prisoner of war on 26 May 1915 in three different POW camps in Germany: first at Gottingen in Hanover, then at Freidrichsfeld in Rhein and finally Langensalza in Thuringia for three and a half years.

Was he gassed or physically injured in battle before capture? I know that when he was repatriated from Germany in December 1918, his medical records note that he had diptheria. By 18 Mar 1919, his medical records indicate that his physique and nutrition were good. The family story is that his mother, Annie Ross Matheson, came down from the Highlands to bring him home so that she could nurse him. But army records tell a different tale. After he was repatriated from Germany, he was at the Ripon Drill Hall, an auxiliary British Army hospital in Yorkshire, where he seems to have been until March, a three month recovery period. Ripon was a demobilization centre for returning troops after the war ended.

Attestation page 2
Likely after he was discharged from Ripon, he was given leave, and visited his family in Aviemore before returning to Montreal, where had been building a new life for himself before the war. Records show that he sailed from Liverpool on 3 Apr 1919 and arrived in Montreal on 12 Apr.

Frank's First World War service file is just 56 pages in total. You can read it here. Missing from his file are details of when he left Canada for England, where he was in England, and then when he was deployed to France.

How long was he on the ground in France before Ypres? What he endured in his three and a half years at three German POW camps we will never know. He never spoke of his experiences, except perhaps with my grandfather because he also served, but he too never spoke about his own experiences.

(continues below images)

Montreal Gazette 11 Jun 1915

Montreal Gazette 29 May 1916
Frank married Victoria Marsh (1893-1942) on 20 June 1920 in Montreal. They had three daughters. He and his family were very close to my grandparents, mother and aunt, with frequent Sunday dinners through the years. He died from injuries sustained in a car accident in Montreal in May 1949, at the age of 56. 

Mount Royal Cemetery, Montreal, Quebec

The never ending story continues....

Friday, 11 November 2016

We Remember 1: Sapper John Matheson 1884-1964

In Canada, Library and Archives Canada has been slowly digitizing the service records of First World War soldiers who were part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. This has been going on for a couple of years now, and at its current rate, is expected to be complete in 2018.

This morning, I checked the digitization progress, and was thrilled to at last find my grandfather John Matheson's complete file, along with that of his younger brother, Frank. I've been checking monthly for a very long time.

My grandfather's service files are really quite mundane, dealing with pay, medical and dental, mostly. The files don't reveal exactly where he was posted -- military names like depots, stations, field hospital, etc. But the timeline is what's fascinating to read. John Matheson  signed his attestation papers in Montreal on 15 Mar 1915, joining the Canadian Railway Construction Corps of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as a sapper, having been a locomotive engineer.

attestation paper pg 1
I now know that on 26 Aug 1915, five days after he and my grandmother Dorothy married in Tooting, London, he sailed from Southhampton to France.
attestation paper pg 2

After joining the CEF, he trained in Canada for three months before sailing with his unit from Saint John, New Brunswick to England on 14 Jun 1915.

There, he was at a British Army training camp in Longmoor, Hampshire for two months, until marrying and then sailing for France. That training camp is still used today. Incredible.

Once he was in France, John's first leave was for two weeks in May 1916. He then had a week's leave in June 1917, followed by two weeks in August 1918. That's all. John spent the bulk of the war in France, but was also in Belgium briefly, according to his file.

I'm still trying to sort out what my grandfather received in pay. For his first six months of service, his pay was assigned to his mother, Annie Ross Matheson, in Nethy Bridge. After his marriage, and that fact had been confirmed by the authorities (yes, really), his pay was assigned to my grandmother in Berwick upon Tweed.

On 1 Nov 1918, my grandfather was injured. This is something we never knew. John was treated first at three casualty clearing stations and then for a week at No 7 Canadian General Hospital at Etaples in Boulogne in northern France, followed by time in a convalescent hospital there in November 1918, but no more details are given. Etaples was a collection of 20 military field hospitals, and was heavily bombed in May 1918.

My grandfather was awarded three medals for his service in the Canadian Railway Construction Corps.

He was transferred to England for demobilization on 16 Jan 1919, but that still took time. He wasn't demobilized until he returned to Canada in April 1919, missing my mother's birth on 10 May 1919 in Berwick-upon-Tweed. My grandmother and mother couldn't join him in Montreal until August, no doubt because my mother was a newborn.

You can read my grandfather's full service file here. He never, ever, spoke of his wartime experiences. On Remembrance Day, I remember him.

The never ending story continues....

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Brick Wall: On the hunt for Mathesons and McKenzies in Urray

Updated 2 Sep 2019 with birth and death years

Since I know that my great grandfather Frank Matheson was born in the old parish of Urray, Ross and Cromarty in Scotland, and that all of his at least eight siblings were also born there, it has belatedly struck me that I may find some clues to his parents, my 2nd great grandparents, Donald Matheson (abt 1798-1859) and Margaret McKenzie (abt 1798-1865), and their origins, searching with the place name Urray. It would be wonderful to find the names of their parents. How hard could it be? No, don't answer that.

Urray is described as a scattered village consisting of Easter, Old and Wester Urray and is near the Muir of Ord, which today is a short 21 minute train ride from Inverness, but was much more difficult to reach before a bridge was built in 1814.

There are many Donald Mathesons and Margaret McKenzies associated with the parish of Urray in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, even though according to the a recently (for me) discovered resource, the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, 1791-1845, the 1791 population of the parish totalled 1,860. The Statistical Accounts are described by the National Library of Scotland as "an invaluable source for research on Scottish life in the 18th to 21st centuries". The 1791 account, you'll see, is written in Old English, so it takes time to digest.

But let's go back to the number of people with the same name. Between 1700 and 1800, lists over 300 births and baptisms with the name Donald Matheson. Now, many of these are the same person, listed as the father, for example. The same can be said for the name Margaret McKenzie for the same period. Still, in an area with a population of 1,860 in 1791, it is clear that traditional Scottish naming patterns were very much followed. See page 2 here.

So far, I'm not finding the names Grant or Cumming, which came to light after recent DNA relationship discoveries, associated with either Matheson or McKenzie.

Today, the parish of Urray is part of the largest local government area in the United Kingdom, but sparsely populated Highland Council. In 2015, it had a total population of 234,110. The capital of the Highlands is Inverness, where I spent a few days in 2011. It has a population today of about 50,000. The Highland Council also includes place names familiar to me from memories my mother spoke of, and from my family history: including Nethy Bridge, Aviemore, Beauly and Black Isle. Not for the first time as a family historian, I wish I could have a conversation with my parents and their parents and grandparents. It would clear up so many mysteries. If only this were possible.

Meanwhile, this is quite the brick wall.

The never ending story continues....

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

More adventures in DNA discoveries

Recently, the results of my sister's AncestryDNA test arrived. I'm continually fascinated by what can be learned from genealogical DNA tests, but am by no means a genetic genealogist.

I was curious to see what would emerge from a full sibling's DNA test, and I wasn't disappointed. Sure enough, matches to my sister's DNA are being identified that are absent from my own DNA results.

I'm the administrator of my sister's and brother-in-law's DNA tests, which, like mine, were also autosomal tests. While my sister and I have generally the same origins, the percentages of our origins aren't identical. Unlike me, her DNA shows 66% Ireland, 13% Europe West, 11% Scandinavia and 5% Great Britain, with traces of other regions. I'm more Viking, but less Irish, but we share the identical amount of Europe West DNA. Europe West, by the way, encompasses France, Germany, Belgium and Holland.

The day after we got her DNA results, one of her matches contacted me. This is a match that I don't have on my own DNA results. But my sister and I share the same 4th great grandparents, James Knox (abt 1729-1760) and Elizabeth Clark (abt 1729-) in Northumberland, England with this new contact. Exciting stuff! We've share our respective information with each other, and are adding to our own trees.

After all that excitement, this week, I uploaded sister's and brother in law's raw DNA data to GEDMatch, and while I was doing that, looked again at my own GEDMatch matches. The top match there had contacted me last year -- we are 4th cousins once removed and share the same Nova Scotia 3rd great grandparents, Elias Nelson (1783-1871) and Elizabeth Forbes (abt 1783-aft 1871).

But the second top match, with whom I share more 41.1% centimorgans of DNA was a mystery. So I emailed that contact, who turns out to be the match's son, and a pretty knowledgeable (and modest) guy when it comes to genetic genealogy.

By doing some mysterious calculations (I confess that anything to do with numbers gives me a twitch) and comparing our respective trees, my newest cousin quickly narrowed down that our common ancestor is likely an as yet unknown ancestor of my Scots maternal great grandparents Frank Matheson (1833-1909) or Annie Ross (1849-1922). He also triangulated (more twitches here) our DNA numbers with a third person's, who -- good grief-- has a PhD in biology and teaches genetic genealogy. She took the calculations one step further, leaving my head spinning even now. I'm still pondering the several reports these two new contacts sent me and now have two new surnames to research in Scotland: Grant and Cumming, based on the triangulation exercise.

The never ending story continues....