Cousins Lost and Found
There have been some interesting back stories going on at www.clyderiverpei.com. One of the benefits of having our website is the people who find it and contact us with genealogical questions and other historical questions from different parts of the world. Stay tuned; there are some treasured stories awaiting you just in time for winter reading.
Our first of such stories began when Jane Dyment from Ottawa contacted us through the website. When I read her email, I determined that we had the same ancestral history. Her great great great grandparents Jane Robertson and Thomas Beer were my great great grand parents. They were the first Beers to arrive in Clyde River from England sometime around the 1930s. Jane and Thomas’ family included James Beer which became our family line and another sibling Mary Ann (Beer) MacFadyen which became Jane’s family line and so it went.
Over these last years, Jane Dyment undertook an extensive online compilation of her family tree. When I visited www.janedyment.ca, I saw my direct family tree as well. I remember calling my Aunt Hilda Beer to say how great is was to find a long-lost cousin who had completed so much wonderful work.
I noticed that her Dyment history and photos featured Northam, PEI, so knowing that is the community where Emily Bryant was from, I sent her the link. She said that she grew up with Dyments on either side of her home. She even found a photo of her mother (Hazel Colwill) and expressed how precious a find this site was to her.
So if both Emily and I found some golden treasure on the site that Jane created, maybe there are others of you who will benefit from her wonderful work and also help her further develop her research.
Aside from this extensive site of family names, I decided to ask her a few questions that would help any of you who may be considering to do some genealogical research for your own family. Needless to say, I received meticulous answers, so I will break it down into two website stories, and over the next while, you will learn the valuable advice from this reference librarian turned genealogical researcher. We look forward to your comments to this article if you, too, find a connection. Enjoy!
Jane, how long have you been working on the www.janedyment.ca site?
Both of my extended families are from Prince Edward Island, and I grew up with the idea that everyone had second and third cousins. It was a shock to leave home and meet people who had no idea who their ancestors were! My grandfather, Les Mann, used to talk about his connection to the Johnstone, MacFadyen and Beer families; my mother dragged me around to PEI graveyards and to visit distant cousins; and my Great Aunt Annie seemed to know the lineage of anyone on PEI who had a Dyment in the family.
So, about 20 years ago, I was heading back to work after being at home for five years with two preschoolers. I was apprehensive about using a personal computer – we had been using dumb terminals and central computers when I left the workforce. I bought a couple of software packages, one of which was Family Tree Maker, and started entering the information I had on hand – the Dyment lineage from the book The Dyments, my Great Uncle Dave’s genealogy of the family of James Dyment and Laura Belle MacArthur, a Fyfe/Humphrey family history, and a Mann family history sent to my mother by a cousin. Over the years I added my husband’s families, since this effort was for my kids, as well as information from local histories of PEI and books like Jeanette Birch’s Leaves from the Birches of Avoca.
I continued to scour the Internet for more information, and in those early days, I wasn’t that careful about checking out the quality of the source. There were, of course, excellent websites like The Island Register that filled in gaps. I started to check again my families census records and the PEI Baptismal Index as they became available online.
When I took early retirement for health reasons a few years ago, I was looking for an easy hobby that I could work on at home that would make use of my skills as a reference librarian. I decided to start filling in the gaps in the Mann family. How hard could it be? I had my mother’s rather cryptic notes, as well as comprehensive work done by my mother’s cousin Doris and the well-written local history of Irishtown/Burlington, From the Top of the Hill, by Ruth Paynter.
But two of the daughters of William Mann Sr. had an incomplete listing in that book, and it was both fun and challenging to discover what had happened to them. Up until that point I had done more copying than my own research, and I was hooked.
While working on the Mann family, I realized that I had no idea how exactly I was related to some of the cousins we used to visit – the McNevins, for instance, or Hazel Vickerson. I found Hazel on a list of Island Centenarians on the Island Register, which gave me her dates, and the McNevin family was in The History and Stories of Clyde River. There I also found the names Beer and MacFadyen, mentioned by my grandfather. The notes my mother had made started to make sense.
Then, as a surprise for my father, I decided to see if I could discover where the descendants of Humphrey Dyment Sr. and Mary Ashton ended up. There were a lot of existing family trees on the web, and I thought at first that this would be a simple cut and paste exercise. Boy, was I wrong.
Describe what you achieved in creating this site e.g. size, scope, geography, how it’s organized.
Some people like to trace their ancestors back to England or Europe, but I found I was much more interested in those people who left to come to Canada. They wouldn’t have had a lot of information on what to expect in the New World: most of them were ordinary workers, and not very literate. Few people of their class made trips back home to tell of their experiences, so they were sailing off into the unknown. What a risk they were taking – the voyage in a small boat across the North Atlantic for a start – to a place that contemporary records say was a forest. Most of them weren’t even farmers, so that would be new, too.
At first, I was just going to get a bit of information on the first couple of generations of each family. But then I would get interested in what happened to a family or a person, or a piece of existing information just wouldn’t fit with what I was finding. For instance, William Mann Sr. was supposed to have emigrated in the 1830s, but most of his children gave their place of birth as PEI, well before that date, and from the entry in the 1861 census he had been there at least ten years earlier. Plus I couldn’t find a record of his wife’s birth, or their marriage, in Scotland so they couldn’t have emigrated together with their family. So I found myself searching further.
I decided at one point that I had enough information to share. In searching for information, I had found old postings where people had been directed to family trees that I knew were incomplete or incorrect.
I was also hoping that people would stumble on the site, and I would be able to connect with cousins who could fill in missing bits. Some of those were the people in the local histories where it said “son John went to the United States and was never heard from again.”
The computer experts in the family did the technical work, moving my database to an open source genealogy software called GRAMPS, which had a module that created web pages. They helped me sort out the options and settle on one that I liked. In this era of privacy and identity theft,
I’ve tried to steer a course between protecting living people while still giving enough data so that a person could find their branch of one of my families, without knowing the names of their great great grandparents. I’d still like to improve that part, because long lists of people called “Living Last Name” clutters up the index.
Other than sticking to the people who came to Prince Edward Island, and then perhaps went on to other provinces or the United States, I haven’t made a lot of restrictions. I try to keep the scope reasonable, because it is all too easy to get sidetracked with an interesting, but perhaps unconnected person. The main families are: Dyments, McArthurs, Maynards, Birches and McLeans from lots 13, 7, and 8; Manns, Humphreys, and Watts from Lots 19 and 20; and the Beer and McFadyen families from Lot 31. I have a Smith family from Lot 2, but I haven’t completely verified the connection there.
There are advantages to having my own site. I can update the information, and fix mistakes that I’ve made. There would be lots more visibility from submitting a family tree to The Island Register, but I wouldn’t be able to make corrections as easily. I uploaded my file on Ancestry.ca, which certainly made it easier to add to the tree, but that is only available to people who register with Ancestry. On balance, there isn’t much work involved with the website so I think I will stick with it.
…Stay tuned as I ask her about fascinating stories found, what motivates her extensive searching, what advice she would give to people new to genealogical research and what advice would she give people about properly captioning old photos.