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Article Published September 07, 2001
Lost and Found: 103-Year-Old Baby Laid to Rest; 154-Year-Old Still Missing
By: Xenia Stanford Biography & Archived Articles
The story of five-month-old Margaret Everett McNeil, whose remains were unearthed and reburied 103 years after her birth, reminds me of my own search for Victoria Stanford, five years old on her last known record of existence 149 years ago. Could anything in the story of baby Margaret help me find missing child Victoria?
I will tell both their stories in the hope that something of the search, especially for Victoria, can assist you. For not only those records and methods used successfully in genealogical research, but also those used to no avail are important in trying to overcome obstacles in finding long lost twigs on the family tree.
Good researchers keep records of where they looked whether the item yielded positive results or not. It is the only way to prevent yourself and others from overturning the same stone time and time again in fruitless effort.
Then again I hope that telling the tale of my still lost Victoria will encourage anyone who may have or find a trace of her to help me lay this long lost child to rest.
Margaret Everett McNeil had originally been laid to rest "with a bow in her hair, a bouquet in her hand and a cloth-coloured pillow under her head" (according to the Calgary Herald, November 19, 2000 page A1-2) in a no longer marked grave in Cochrane, Alberta. The expanding town near Calgary wanted to build on the site in 1984 and began excavation. They uncovered six burial plots in the McNeil family cemetery. The town decided not to disturb the graves out of respect to the pioneer family.
However, sometime in the past few years, the need for a site for a new library forced the town to reconsider and they brought in archaeologist Gerry, his historian wife Joy and Professor Anne Katezenberg to determine the identity of those buried in the 6 graves.
There was a boy named John; another who died at age 12 after being trampled by a horse; a third brother, Joseph, who died at age 18 of appendicitis; Margaret, the mother who died from complications of giving birth; and John, the father who died digging the grave of one of his sons. All these graves were found to be empty, as the remains had been moved to a new family plot in St. Mary's Pioneer Cemetery in Calgary.
However, in one of the six graves inside an outer wooden box, the team of researchers found a wooden casket containing the actual remains of an infant. From the pink bow they determined it was a baby girl, but who was she? That's where Joy and Anne came in as they tried to reconstruct the family's history. During their research they surmised that this baby girl was the youngest member of the McNeil clan.
Otelaar called Stephanie Chrumka in 1998 and said he believed the remains were those of her long-lost great aunt, baby Margaret. To be sure DNA samples taken from the baby's teeth were matched with hair samples from her closest living kin, niece Beatrice Folger of Calgary. They matched!
The baby's identity was confirmed as Margaret Everett McNeil, originally laid to rest in April, 1897 and now reburied in a new white coffin alongside her family in St. Mary's Pioneer Cemetery on Monday November 20, 2000 exactly 104 years to the day of her mother's death during the birth of her namesake. Without her mother's milk, tiny Margaret ailed and passed away five months later.
I listened to a detailed account by the Otelaars at the Alberta Genealogical Society GenFair Conference in April 2000, 103 years after the birth of baby Margaret, of the process they used to come close enough to make the DNA sampling and identification of the baby a reality. They used Alberta records and resources for this family who lived and died in this province.
Meanwhile I have still been following the trail of a missing member of the Stanford clan who lived and died in the province of Quebec.
Victoria Stanford remains on the missing list for her living relatives as search as I might no evidence of her life has been found since the 1851 census for St. Roch Ward in Quebec City. On this census she was listed as age 5 and her birthplace as Quebec City.
At this time her older siblings were listed as Adelaide, age 16 born in Montreal; Lydia age 15 born in Sorel, Catherine age 12 listed next as born "do" (meaning ditto or same as above, hence Sorel); Emilie age 10 born "do", Marie age 8 born Montreal, and Caroline listed next at age 7 born "do" (hence Montreal). A younger sister Amie was listed after 5 year-old Quebec City born Victoria. Amie was age 3 and born "do" (thus in this case also Quebec City).
Through this information and the fact that most of the family including Victoria were Catholic (except for Marie and the family patriarch Joseph who were listed as Protestant), I was able to locate all the siblings' baptism records and thus their birth dates from the Catholic parish registers for the cities listed as their birthplace.
I found the baptism and birth dates of the children born in Sorel quite easily since there was only one Catholic parish listed in the Family History Library Catalog (FHLC) for those years: Saint-Pierre-de-Sorel. By searching the CD-ROM version of FHLC the at the local Family History Centre (you can now search online at http://www.familysearch.org/Eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp), I found the correct microfilm numbers for this parish and sent away for the ones covering the appropriate years for Lydia, Catherine and Emilie. From these films I found the following:
Meanwhile, however, I had discovered on an index of baptisms for Montreal a listing for Emelie Isabella Stanford in 1841. Searching the same index I found entries for Adelaide, Marie and Caroline, those who had been listed on the census as born in Montreal. Luckily all four baptisms took place in Montreal's Notre Dame Church so the appropriate rolls of film listed under Registres paroissiaux, 1642-1876 Eglise catholique. Notre-Dame (Montréal, Québec) were ordered and the baptisms and births located as follows:
(This further shows the value of looking at microfilm copies of original records rather than relying solely on indexes.)
However, no church record revealed the baptism or birth of Victoria Stanford. Even more mysterious there was no mention of her in the 1861 census along with the rest of the family.
By then sisters Adelaide, Luce, Catherine, Emilie and Elise had married and were living with their husbands in other households. Through the Loiselle's marriage index and supplement I had been able to establish the marriage date and husband's name for each of the sisters who had married by then and those who married after (namely Caroline, Aimee and Josephine)
Then further research in cemetery records and parish registers list deaths and burials of each of these siblings and their parents. However, Victoria seems to have vanished into thin air after the 1861 census. Such a short life leaves such few records. Is my only hope that some archaeologist, family historian or professor finds an unidentified grave for Victoria Stanford and seeks the next-of-kin to conduct a DNA sample?
Until this unlikely event occurs, anyone knowing any further details on little Victoria, please let me know. Hope that the account of my search has given you a few clues for your own. Happy hunting for your lost little ones.
More Quebec/French Research Resources