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Article Published Nov. 30, 2000
EAST COAST KIN (Canada)
By: Sandra Devlin, Biography & Archived Articles
Looking For 'Gordon Lemuel Wilkie'
I received a heart wrenching letter in my regular "snail" mail recently. Hopefully a reader out there may be able to help.
The following letter in shaky handwriting is a plaintive reminder that families, despite sophisticated 21st Century communication technologies, can become separated. Between the lines, I read urgency in this letter. Let’s prove the power of modern communication combined with caring hearts to resolve this request.
The letter, in full, reads:
His name: Gordon Lemuel Wilkie, born N.S.
Parents: Charles Roger and Gertie Wilkie, both deceased N.S.
His trade, retired after 35 years with the coast guard. Born Feb. 19, 1920.
Wife: Rita, children Stacy and Carolyn, married names unknown.
Last know address Apt 32, 111 Sidney St., St. John, N.B., E2L 2L8.
Any information would be very helpful in my husband's recovery.
Mrs. Lawrence Wilkie
263 Sinclair St. S , Cobourg, Ont. K9A 2Y3.
I have no lack of mail, but I will be watching for answers to this one with particular interest.
I receive upwards of 300 or more e-mails every day and my old-fashioned mail delivered to my old-fashioned mail box at the curb is also plenty full most days .
There are many days when I wish there was more than one of me to go dashing off in all directions to help solve every sincere plea for help.
For example, the scope for free genealogy queries in the 13 newspapers in Atlantic Canada which publish my weekly column, Missing Links, can not accommodate the poignant appeals from adopted children in search of their birth parents.
Incidentally, three new newspapers have recently joined the Missing Links family -- The Telegram, St. John’s, Nfld.; The Western Star, Corner Brook, Nfld. and The Cape Breton Post, Sydney, N.S. And, Missing Links now has its own web page http://sites.netscape.net/devlinsandra/missinglinks
I get a hugh giggle from the letters which read something like: “Please send me everything you can find about Donald MacDonald, my grandfather.”
One day recently a grandmother wrote to say her grandson had a school project to write about the history of the Maritime provinces and could I please send her everything I have.
Neither will get an answer from me -- and for that they should be eternally grateful.
From the snail mail letters sent without a return address -- some even unsigned -- I simply grit my teeth, especially for those that I could have answered giving significant clues to their research.
I do wish more folks would remember to include their postal or zip code and enclose a stamped, self-addressed envelope. Those simple courtesies make a hugely significant difference in the speed, even the likelihood, of a reply.
Genealogy With A New Spin...
But, then there are the singular letters which grab attention and simply won’t let go. Like the one from Garfield Darroch who is tracking down the “genealogy” of his 1931 Model A Ford De luxe Roadster convertible. The heart of his search is in Sussex, N.B., but the trail of clues spans the breadth of Canada and crosses the border into Massachusetts and beyond.
Garfield spent his summer vacation in the Maritimes this year, traveling from his Ontario home for the third time in search of the scattered memorabilia of Ada Gertrude Titus-Lake (1873-1964) and her sporty Depression-era, spoked-wheeled two-seater complete with rumble seat.
“I guess you could say I am obsessed,”Garfied said when he made my home a stop on his tour. Although the origins of the exhaustive search began quite simply at an antique car flea market in Barrie, Ont. in 1994 where he feel in love with and bought the pristine vehicle with just over 38,000 original miles.
At first, Garfield was only mildly curious to know who the previous owners had been. But the search took on a life of its own as a widening circle of people related their memories of the vehicle and its original and subsequent owners.
“The more I learn, the more I want to know.”
Garfield has documented the search in an ever-expanding journal which he circulates to a network of more than 100 people. “I have met some extremely nice and helpful people who have added a lovely human element to the search.”
The car buff has compiled a core genealogy of the immediate Titus family largely through contact with avid historian, retired farmer and bachelor Bill Titus of Titusville, a nephew of Ada who had no children of her own. Ada was the third of five children of James William Titus (1836-1902) and Mary Jane Beyea (1839-1935).
The current search is for the third, fourth and fifth generation of descendants of this couple from Titusville, N.B. and for identified close friends of Ada who worked as a private nurse in Brookline, Massachusetts before returning to Sussex in her retirement years. Third-generation surnames include: Smith and Wiles.
Above all, Garfield would love to turn up Ada’s personal photograph albums which could be buried in the attic of a distant niece or nephew.
In particular, Garfield is looking for connections of Ada’s through: Charles and Ruth (Logan) Gibson; Sandra Muir; Dorothy Orser-MacFarlane; Frances Fitzpatrick, Bertha M. Hawkins or Jardine, Sears or Thompson families with connections in Sussex, in hopes that their surviving journals or photograph albums also contain references to the car.
“If these names are familiar to you or you have any other information, do not hesitate to contact me,” says Garfield.
In addition, he hopes to turn up insurance records from 1954 or earlier of the Burton M. McAlary Insurance Agency in Sussex .
Contact: Garfield Darroch 1915 Ashton Place, Burlington, Ont. L7P 2Y4; telephone: (905) 336-3341; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Writing Lettes Of Inquiry
Clearly, some people know how to write letters of inquiry well. Others will benefit from the advise I gave in a talk to the fledgling Cumberland County Genealogical Society in Amherst, N.S. recently.
Every query must imply a give and take. But it need not be said directly. It is clearly implied when you ask a specific question rather than making a blanket demand.
On the other hand, beware of what I call the “spilling your guts” query, wait until you are asked for full details.
Most every day I get mail from someone who spells out in minute detail to me every nuance about their family tree. Frankly, these rarely get read, much less answered.
When you clearly understand the purpose of the query, you will write queries that work.
The purpose of a query letter, a first-contact letter if you will, is to find someone who shares your interest. To do so, you must ask one question at a time, with sufficient detail to make a hit before it loses the readers attention.
Make the first letter brief -- never more than one page -- be polite, be formal -- ask one - no more than two - direct questions. State your purpose AND include a self-stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Try again, if they don’t answer the first time.
Once it took five letters (all stating the request in a new way) before I finally heard from one chap in Toronto, who held the key to a stubborn family group -- there had been a family feud in the past generations, I learned.
Once you have made a valuable contact, there are still some watchwords.
Don’t overwhelm folks in any one letter. Be prepared to write several letters back and forth and do more than simply “milk” their memories; establish a new friendship and get involved in their lives today, as much as they want you to be.
Bow out when asked. Not everyone wants to share their memories. Watch for the subtle signs which indicate that you might be intruding on the privacy of others.
Once you make contact and learn new information -- you must follow the paths -- and if you are lucky your new contact will share the journey with you. Follow up on a lead, share your newest knowledge AND bingo a new memory is released. I wish I had a dime for every time someone has written to me “Oh, my gosh, I had forgotten all about that.” These are those “cameo” moments of recovering the past that I love the most.
Letters and e-mails are invaluable in your genealogy search, especially if you don’t lose sight of the real purpose -- to bring families back together.
More Atlantic Canada Resources...