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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 09 November 2009
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles


Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this column include:
  • Lest we forget
  • Advancing my personal genealogy
  • Online genealogical resources


Scroll down this page to read the complete articles...



Lest we forget

The headline of this article is brief, having only three words, but the meaning behind it is far from brief. It is a reminder that more than 117,000 Canadians have fought and died in various wars so that we, and others, might enjoy the freedom we have today. It is a reminder that Canadians continue to fight in Afghanistan. It is a reminder that some of our countrymen have died, and that others may yet die, so that citizens of that country might gain the freedom of a democratic government that Taliban terrorists would deny them. It is a reminder also that those who choose to criticize the involvement of our soldiers in such endeavours have that right because of the Canadians who have fought and died in order to give it to them.

Originally called Armistice Day (and still called that in some countries), Remembrance Day throughout the British Commonwealth was created by King George V of the United Kingdom on 7 November 1919 to commemorate the end of the First World War (Monday, 11 November 1918, at 11 a.m.). It was dedicated to members of the armed forces who were killed during World War I. It was not until 1931 however, that a bill was passed - changing the name from "Armistice Day" to "Remembrance Day" and specifying that it be held on the same day each year - the eleventh of November. At the same time, Thanksgiving Day was moved to October.

It has become tradition that on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, two minutes of silence is observed in remembrance for the men and women who had served, and continue to serve our respective countries during times of war, conflict and peace. The two minutes recall World War I and World War II. Before 1945 the silence was for one minute, for World War I, and today some ceremonies still only have one minute of silence.

Possibly one of the most remembered poems ever written is "In Flanders Fields". It was taught to me as a child in school, and so far as I am aware it is still taught to school children today. What many may not know, or may not remember, is that it was written by a Canadian, Royal Canadian Army Medical Corp officer, Dr. John MacRae [1872-1918]. "In Flanders Fields" was written on a battlefield following the death of a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, on 2 May 1915.
    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.
John Henry Foster Babcock (born July 23, 1900) who lives in Spokane, Washington, at age 109 is the only known surviving veteran of the Canadian military to have served in the First World War. Since the death of American Harry Patch on 25 July 2009 he is the oldest surviving participant of that conflict. Babcock first attempted to join the army at the age of fifteen, but was turned down and sent to work in Halifax until he was placed in the Young Soldier's battalion in August 1917. Babcock was then transferred to Britain, where he continued his training until the end of the war.

Having never seen combat, Babcock never considered himself a veteran and moved to the United States in the 1920s, where he joined the United States army and eventually became an electrician. He became a United States citizen in 1946, losing his Canadian Citizenship in the process. (At the time, Canada did not accept dual citizenship.) On 9 May 2007, following the death of Percy "Dwight" Wilson, he became the last surviving veteran of the First World War who served with the Canadian forces. Since then, he has received much international attention, including birthday greetings from the Queen of England, the Canadian Prime Minister and the Governor General of Canada. In 2008 he petitioned Prime Minister Stephen Harper and was reinstated as a Canadian Citizen and participated, via video, in Canadian 2008 Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Whether we call it 'Remembrance Day' as in Canada, or 'Veteran's Day' as in the United States, or by another name in whatever country you happen to live in, I urge you not to forget. At 11:00 a.m. on 11 November, stop what you are doing, bow your head and observe two minutes of silence to remember and honour those who gave their lives so that we might live the lives we do today.

As I have done in the past, I recommend viewing and listening to two online tributes to veterans. The first - a visual and musical tribute by Terry Kelly, called 'A Pittance of Time', and an explanation of how it came to be written, can be accessed online in either English or French versions

The second - a 'Thank you' to the men and women who fought in World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, titled 'Before you go', can also be accessed online

As usual, when viewing these videos, I did so with tears in my eyes. I challenge anyone to view these tributes with dry eyes.

Let us never forget.



Advancing my personal genealogy

Following a lengthy period of neglect, I have recently taken up working on my personal genealogy once again. Over the past several years, since starting efforts to regain public access to historic Census records in 1998, I have worked at my genealogy only briefly and periodically when I coincidentally came across something of interest. I have not, however, put any sustained effort into it.

What sparked my return to greater genealogical effort at this time was a recent (well - several months ago) email from a previously unknown contact in England who advised that his wife was a WATTS descendant, and that their research could take my WATTS ancestry back a further six generations from what I already had. To date, he has provided enough direct line information to take me back three generations to my ggg-grandfather. Edward WATTS (22 July 1744) married Anne LEWINGTON (6 November 1743) at Mildenhall, Wiltshire, England on 12 July 1770. They had eight children, one of whom was Robert (29 January 1786) - my direct line ancestor. He had an elder brother Joseph (29 February 1784) from whom my contact's wife was descended.

My contact lives in Hertfordshire, north of London, and has several times travelled to Wiltshire to spend many hours at the Parish Church and Wiltshire Records Offices. He has collected information regarding baptism, marriage and burial records for the Ramsbury/Axford/Mildenhall area, and has passed files containing that information over to me. The fun for me now is to try connecting the dots between the various pieces of information in those files. For much of that I find I will have to go back to my Hertfordshire contact. I look forward to our further exchanges.



Online genealogical resources

One of the side effects of my renewed genealogy research has been a refreshing of my mind regarding the many online genealogical resources that are available. Of course, like most of us I am particularly interested in those websites on which I can retrieve information without being charged an arm and a leg.

One of the best of those, in my view, for Canadian resources, is the Canadian Genealogy Centre -- a production of Library and Archives Canada. Here you will find many databases that cover a wide variety of topics, including Census, Immigration and Citizenship, Military records, land grant records, employment records, and more. In a number of instances, where LAC does not itself retain the records, for example for Vital Statistics (Births, Marriages and Deaths), the CGC provides links to the appropriate sources. The CGC mandate includes forming partnerships with other organizations, and in the past few years such partnerships have resulted in more online databases being made available than might otherwise have been the case. An increasing number of those databases include the ability to view online scans of original documents.

No listing of free genealogy resource websites would be complete without mention of those produced by the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). When first accessing FamilySearch.org you are given the opportunity to seek your ancestors through a global search of databases that include online Ancestral Files, Census, International Genealogy Index, Pedigree Resource File, US social Security Death Index, Vital Records Index, and Family History Web Sites. For those new to genealogy research, this site provides guides on how to get started, links to off-site resources, and more. They also provide a download of Personal Ancestral File - a free genealogy and family history program that allows you to quickly and easily collect, organize and share family history and genealogy information. For a small fee you can also purchase and download PAF Companion, a program that extends the printing capabilities of PAF to allow printing your family tree in colourful ancestor and descendant charts.

Cyndi's List is a large categorized and cross-refenced directory of sites useful for genealogical research. It has hundreds of thousands of links, covering virtually every country in the world, to items such as Ships and Passenger Lists, BMD's, Adoption, Newspapers, Biographies, City Directories, Military, and many other topics too numerous to list here. If you are looking for a genealogical mail list for a particular topic or location, the indexes on Cyndi's List are where to start.

At some point in your research, you will reach a point where you have run out of 'free' sources to investigate, and you will find yourself looking at the various 'fee for service' websites, wondering which one is the best for your research purposes. One of the largest and most diverse of these is Ancestry, who promote themselves as the world's largest family history website. Whether or not this claim is correct, they do provide a great deal of information through their various subscriptions and different "country collections". Each of their country collections contain resources unique to that collection, but also provide limited access to resources in other collections. Ancestry.com is their main website, covering mostly resources for the United States, although there are also links to world-wide resources.

Ancestry.ca provides access to Ancestry's Canadian collection, including the complete Drouin Collection (Quebec Vital & Church records), military records, newspapers, census records and more. Ancestry.co.uk includes records of historical censuses and parish records, military records and passenger lists, BMD's etc., for the United Kingdom (England, Wales, and Scotland). Ancestry.com.au will take you to Ancestry for Australia where you will find records relating to Immigration and Emigration, Military, Court, Land, Wills & Financial, Convicts, and more. In the limited time I spent searching, I was unable to find a link to Ancestry's European website. I did find Ancestry.it, a site for Italy. This might indicate that more Ancestry sites are available for individual European countries, rather than one site covering them all. (The Italian website was written entirely in Italian, with no provision that I found, for English translation.) Something I would have found handy, but did not find, would have been a section on the home pages of each of Ancestry's country collections that provided links to the home pages of all other Ancestry country collections.

As indicated above, the Ancestry resources are 'fee for service' websites. Each country collection has its own rate structure providing a variety of subscriptions, i.e. annual, quarterly, monthly, or limited short term access for a specific number of records. Each of the main country collections that I accessed provided for a 14-day free trial subscription. Access to the trial subscription is dependant upon provision of credit card information and so long as you cancel your trial subscription prior to the end of the 14 day period, your card will not be billed. In the early days of Ancestry, there were many complaints regarding difficulty in cancelling the trial subscription, however in recent years I have not heard similar complaints.

At first glance, particularly for someone on a fixed income, Ancestry subscription rates may seem somewhat high. For someone seeking a lot of records, no doubt the best value, on a per unit basis, is the Annual Subscription. Those having an interest in more than one area, i.e. the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, would likely find a considerable saving in subscribing to Ancestry's World Collection, rather than having separate subscription for each country of interest.

Watch for the next editions of Gordon Watts Reports for more information regarding online genealogical resources.


Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts gordon_watts@telus.net

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

To view back issues of Gordon Watt's columns, visit Gordon's biography page where all of his archives articles are available.


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