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Article Published October 27, 2000
EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles
Collecting Moments In Time
My six-year-old granddaughter began asking genealogy questions this summer.
“Who is your father?” she asked me on a hot, lazy summer afternoon after a cuddle-up storybook read.
Luckily I was able to point across the room in our family’s ocean-front cottage and answer “Your poppy is my father.”
Will this be one of those cameo moments in her life? Will it be a rare and precious memory she will look back upon as an adult and have to choke back the tears from the tenderness and fragility of the moment?
It is important that we as family researchers not only search for accurate names, dates and places for our tree, but also make the time to inspire and influence others.
What greater example of this could there be than Alex Haley who once said: "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage - to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum. An emptiness. And the most disquieting loneliness."
It is incumbent upon us who treasure our heritage (even to the point of obsession), to do our part to fulfill the hunger which Haley describes for the generations which are following us.
A recent posting on one of the Internet mailing lists I monitor touched me deeply and its author Bill Norin kindly consented to my sharing it with a wider audience.
Early in July Bill wrote: “I have been a genealogist for 28 years and during that time I have filed every letter I ever received. Lately with the advent of e-mail I don't get too many any more.
“Last week my 91-year-old cousin died. She meant a lot to me for she was the one who got me started tracing our family roots. Shyrle was a gifted writer and had three books published, the last when she was 90. Her letters well reflect her writing talents. In all there are 101 pages of them and it was a rich treasure trove which I sent to her daughter, for Shyrle recounted the wonderful places she had visited around the world as well as chronicling the important events in her life between 1975 and 1994.
The following is one of the gems I found in an earlier letter:
others garner priceless plates;
pebbles from some ancient ruins;
matches from a dozen states.
Cards you sent brought recollection
as I sat beside my tree..
priceless friends are my collection,
thank you friends for collecting me.’”
My maternal grandmother may have planted the first seeds of genealogical curiosity in me one summer day now more than 50 years past.
As a curious, active four-year-old, I was totally lost in the pleasure of a willy-nilly rummage through my grandmother’s attic. More specifically, I was having a great old time digging into the crusty steamer trunks with the chunky brass fittings, in search of what I do not recall.
My little feet were all but lost in a pair of pointy toed, black, high-heeled shoes. I had a dusty straw hat on my head. And I was having a whale of a time emptying the contents of one trunk after another onto the rough, wide-board floor.
I recall, as if it were yesterday, the dried string beans strung from the rafters overhead and the wicker baby carriage with the two back wheels at least twice as big as the wheels on the front. Sun beams were dancing on the dust particles free-floating on the musky, hot air.
As I said, I was having a whale of a time, so it is little wonder that I did not hear Grammie’s approaching footsteps on the back stair well and I was therefore startled when the wooden door creaked open on its unoiled black hinges.
My grandmother was not likely very happy to see the mess I had made. But, instead of being openly cross with me, she sat down beside me and explained one by one the significance of the treasures in her trunks and why she would prefer to keep them in their safe place instead of all over the floor.
There were dozens of school workbooks and papers with drawings on them for each of five children -- each was dated and sorted by name.
There were pictures -- wedding pictures, baby pictures, family picnics and studio portraits sent from Boston by her aunts.
There were lots and lots of letters ... letters sent from the “Great War”, letters from the States and many, many more that I have forgotten.
There were cracked cups and saucers from somebody’s “good china.”
There were assorted pieces of jewelry. The shoes on my feet were the shoes my Grammie wore on her wedding day. And she showed me her wedding dress, packed in moth balls.
We spent a long time together that summer afternoon, time I realize now that was precious and never wasted on a working farm without modern conveniences -- me on her ample lap and surrounded by her fleshy arms. Her hands caressed each item as she told me its story.
Today, the only thing left from those trunks is one beat-up, red velvet photo album which I have but can not identify most of the people in it and my memories.
When my Grammie died prematurely from cancer (the same age as I am now), most of her “stuff” was not kept. Perhaps it was too painful to go through. Perhaps no one realized their importance.
Whatever the reasons, the trunks and their contents were not kept in tact and were likely destroyed.
Gloria Beek Writes
Gloria Beek in Merrickville, Ontario is doing her part to keep the surname of her husband’s illustrious family alive.
Gloria is determined that a street in Fredericton, N.B. will be named Beek Street after James S. Beek, one of the former mayor’s of the capital.
At last report, and despite earlier silence, the council now seems prepared to right the oversight.
Gloria writes: “James S. Beek was the son of Joseph Beek who brought his family of eight to Fredericton in 1821 from Bandon, Cork Ireland. Joseph became the registrar of deeds and wills for the Fredericton area. All his children became important in the development of New Brunswick. In addition to the accomplishments of James S. Beek. Joseph Jr. was an accountant on the Miramichi in the Doaktown area for the lumber companies, Henry owned a book/furniture store in St. John, Francis had a mill in St. Stephens, John moved to Ontario. and the girls all intermarried with the local prominent families of the time. The activities of this family are well documented in records at the University of New Brunswick and in Indexes of the local newspapers of the day. Later generations have continued their contribution to Canada, for instance, my husband's father , Joseph Beek was one of the few veterans of both World Wars.”
Kudos to Gloria for believing that the fourth mayor of Fredericton and former Auditor General of New Brunswick deserves recognition, and for doing her part to see it happens.
Sandra Harris Writes
Sandra Harris in Australia opens the doors to new research potentials by reminding us that police records are much more than evidence of crime.
“There are other police records ... of immense interest to family historians,” Sandra wrote in an intriguing Internet post. Her 15-year research of 19th and 20th century police records in Victoria (Australia) has turned up at least one Maritime connection, to boot.
John Spencer Smith, former treasurer of Prince Edward Island in Canada, and son of the former governor, left his wife and family in the 1850s to travel to the Victorian gold fields of Australia. He obtained a government position but left it. The family in Canada lost touch.
Fifteen years later, one of his sons wrote to the police in Victoria to ask them to contact his father.
Because John Smith is such common name, it took 18 months for police to satisfy the request. But, John Smith from P.E.I. was finally found, destitute and living alone in a hut .
The family in P.E.I. promised to send money, butt never did. John Smith died a year later. The Australian government submitted a bill for burial expenses to his family back in Canada. It too was ignored.
Another story with Canadian ties begs the question of whether there could be a Maritime connection, given the familiarity of the names. Seems that 53-year-old Frank Vaughan of Calgary deserted his wife in 1915 and sailed for Australia with 23-year-old Alice Potts. Mrs. Vaughan and children were left destitute. Twenty-one pages fill this file covering a period from 1916-1918.
Sandra is willing to share her findings with researchers from around the world. See details on her web page: http://www.ozemail.com.au/~hdharris/missingpeople.html The web page is worth a visit sheerly for wee bit of voyeurism, even if the principles are not kin.
Sandra says: “Anyone wishing to obtain a photocopy of a particular file will have to pay photocopying costs, plus a small fee to cover travel and time in going to the Public Record Office and relocating the material.”
Besides the intriguing possibility of finding missing links on the other end of the world, one also wonders what may be hiding in local police records awaiting discovery.
And, one final story.
A letter from half way round the world is reminder of how we are all part of a tight-knit global family.
Christina Mackay Beveridge from Tasmania writes:“ I sat dumbfounded as my father's words leapt from my computer screen!”
Christina happened upon the poem Heroes of the Jervis Bay written in 1940 by her father, the late Robert Mackay, published on the New Brunswick Coummunity College web site www.saintjohn.nbcc.nb.ca
Known in Scotland as the Caithness Violinist and Bard, Mackay’s “poems are still recited at local Scottish gatherings, but I had no idea that his verse had travelled to other countries. I can't tell you how overwhelming it was for me to see his moving tribute.”
Jervis Bay's heroic defence of her convoy “is a legend that will continue to be told and retold with love and devotion by the children and grandchildren of that gallant crew and with pride and gratitude by all who understand the value of freedom,” Christina says.
In Saint John, N.B., the inscription on a Jervis Bay monument in the Ross Memorial Park reads: “In Honoured Memory of Captain E.S. Fogarty Fegen V.C. Officers and Men of HMS Jervis Bay Who Gave Their Lives In Gallant Action Against Overwhelming Odds With A German Raider In The North Atlantic November 5 1940 In Order That 36 Ships Under Their Care Might Be Saved.”
On that fateful late autumn afternoon, the merchant cruiser Jervis Bay was the sole escort for Convoy HX84 of freighters moving from Halifax to Britain. Suddenly the convoy was under attack from a German battleship. The Jervis Bay advanced in hopes of delaying the Germans long enough to enable most of the convoy to escape. The convoy scattered on command. The Jervis Bay was sunk.
The actions of the Jervis Bay doubtlessly saved thousands of lives. Only 65 of 255 aboard the Jervis Bay survived. Crew members were largely British reseviists and according to a line of Mackay’s poem“from the same old shire.”
From the list of casulaties there are only a few Canadians including Maritimer Joseph Homer Gerald Leopold Blanchard, stoker, age 29, husband of Mabel and son of Edmund and Amanda Blanchard of Dalhousie, N.B. Christina writes: “Learning of the bond forged by the fate of Jervis Bay between the communities of New Brunswick and my native Scottish County of Caithness has made a great impact on me and given me a greater understanding of my father and his life and times.”
Christina is also anxious to learn about the families of her father’s brothers, one or more of whom emigrated to Canada in the early 1930s and were never hard from again.
Contact: Christiana Mackay Beveridge, PO Box 492, Kings Meadows, Lauceston, Tasmania, 7249, Australia; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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