Genealogical mystery about the Empress of Ireland

Genealogy, mystery, and the tragic story of the sinking of the RMS Empress of Ireland in the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914. What a combination for a good story. Now, you can read this story in Steve Robinson’s latest book, The Lost Empress. Released this week, this book is Mr. Robinson’s fourth in the Jefferson Tayte genealogical mystery series.

The Lost Empress is about the sinking of the Empress of Ireland on its way from Quebec City to Liverpool, England. More than 1,000 people aboard the ship lost their lives when the ship sank after colliding with the SS Storstad, making it the largest Canadian maritime accident in peacetime.

A sneak peak at The Lost Empress is available on

A sneak peak at The Lost Empress is available on

The book description says: “On a foggy night in 1914, the ocean liner Empress of Ireland sank en route to England and now lies at the bottom of Canada’s St Lawrence River. The disaster saw a loss of life comparable to the Titanic and the Lusitania, and yet her tragedy has been forgotten.

“When genealogist Jefferson Tayte is shown a locket belonging to one of the Empress’ victims, a British admiral’s daughter named Alice Stilwell, he must travel to England to understand the course of events that led to her death.

“Tayte is expert in tracking killers across centuries. In The Lost Empress, his unique talents draw him to one of the greatest tragedies in maritime history as he unravels the truth behind Alice’s death amidst a backdrop of pre-WWI espionage.”

Julie Cahill Tarr wrote a review about the book in her blog post, Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery Series Continues With Another Great Book.

The book is available in trade paperback and Kindle editions and perhaps already in book stores. I found it on the websites of both Indigo and Amazon. While (not provides a peak inside the book, it appears that only Indigo has paperback copies in stock for now.

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Historian Alvin Jackson to speak at the School of Canadian Irish Studies this evening

The School of Canadian Irish Studies at Concordia University is holding a public lecture this evening, October 23, at 7:00 p.m. with historian and author Alvin Jackson. The title of Mr. Jackson’s lecture is The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland and the Survival of the United Kingdom.

This is the 7th Annual Irish Protestant Benevolent Society Lecture. It will be held in the McEntee Reading Room, Hall Building, 10th Floor, Room H1001.01, Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve West, Montreal.

Alvin Jackson_Two UnionsMr. Jackson is an historian of modern Ireland and of the British-Irish relationship, and is at present Sir Richard Lodge Professor of History and Dean of Research at the University of Edinburgh. He was educated at Corpus Christi and Nuffield Colleges, Oxford, and has taught at University College Dublin and at Queen’s University Belfast. He is the author or editor of seven books, including the prize-winning The Ulster Party (1989) and the Two Unions (2012), which has been short-listed for two national prizes in the United Kingdom. His latest work is the Oxford Handbook of Modern Irish History. His research has been recognised by numerous awards, and most recently through a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship.

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Booklet tells the story of Port Hope’s contribution to WWI

The Port Hope Archives in Ontario reprinted and sells the Book of Remembrance, an account of the city’s contribution to the First World War. The original booklet was compiled in 1919 as a tribute to the sixty-five men of Port Hope and vicinity who died in the Great War. Only two copies were produced at the time.

"Book of Remembrance" is available from Port Hope Archives.

“Book of Remembrance” is available from Port Hope Archives.

The Book of Remembrance was the town’s attempt to remember the fallen men as personalities and not just as names on the cenotaph. It is also a record of how the people of a small town joined together to support “their boys” overseas.

The special edition of this book includes the names and photos of all of Port Hope’s soldiers, letters from the front as published in the Port Hope Evening Guide, and photos from the Port Hope Archives’ collection.

The Archives describes the Book of Remembrance as a “snapshot of rural Ontario’s contribution to ‘the war to end all wars’ and a lasting tribute to those who paid the price for peace.”

The reprinted booklet is available for $5 plus $10 for shipping and handling within Ontario. Visit the Port Hope Archives’ website for purchase details.

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Pier 21 to close for six months

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax will close for six months on Friday for an expansion and renovations.

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 opened in 1999.

The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 opened in 1999.

Chief executive officer Marie Chapman said, “The $12-million project has been in the works since the facility became a national museum and received $25 million toward upgrading in 2011.”

The museum is scheduled to reopen in May with a new exhibition telling the broader story of Canadian immigration and showcasing the contributions of immigrants to Canada’s culture, economy and way of life.

Pier 21 was an entry point to Canada for one million people from 1928 to 1971, and a departure point for half a million Canadian troops during the Second World War. The museum opened in 1999.

Two years ago, the museum underwent construction for the first half of its capital expansion project that saw improvements in the heat and ventilation system and larger administrative offices and collection storage room.

Officer manager Ashley MacPherson wrote on the Pier 21 blog that the public will benefit from the second part of the expansion project, which includes a new Canadian Immigration Story Exhibition and updates and renovations to the Rudolph P. Bratty Exhibition, Kenneth C. Rowe Hall, and Chrysler Canada Pavilion. “Rudolph P. Bratty Hall currently houses our Pier 21 story exhibition. In May 2015, the space will continue to share the Pier 21 story but the exhibits will be updated and revamped.”

The administration offices on Marginal Road will stay open during the renovations and staff will remain available to assist researchers.

Ms. MacPherson plans to blog and post photos during the construction process on the Pier 21 blog.

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New publication about history of Matane, Quebec

The Société d’histoire et de généalogie de Matane (SHGM) has published a 70-page brochure, Matane d’hier à aujourd’hui (Matane from yesterday to today), about significant moments in the history of the town.

One of the editors of the new brochure, Gracia Drapeau, hopes teachers will be encouraged to use it to teach students about the history of Matane and that new residents will appreciate reading the historical vignettes.

Recognizing the work of the SHGM, Mayor Jérôme Landry said that more and more people are moving to Matane and this brochure will help them integrate.

The brochure is available from the SHGH for $10. Visit the SHGH website contact page to inquire.

Matane is in Quebec’s Gaspé region on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River. In 1603, Samuel de Champlain visited the area and considered the location as “pleasant enough.” In 1616, merchants known as the Rochelais from La Rochelle were the first Europeans to spend the winter there. Almost 15,000 people live in Matane today.

The Société d’histoire et de généalogie de Matane logo, "I was there in the beginning."

The Société d’histoire et de généalogie de Matane logo, “I was there in the beginning.”

The Société d’histoire de Matane was founded in 1949. It added généalogie to its name in 1986. To mark the 75th anniversary of Matane attaining town status in 2012, the town published the book, Matane en histoire et en images, in collaboration with the SHGM. It includes more than 100 old photos. Annual membership is $30 and the membership page is bilingual, suggesting that they may be able to help unilingual Anglophones with their genealogy research.

A L’Avantage newspaper article and photo about the brochure launch is available here.

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Oral history workshop in Thunder Bay

The Northwestern Ontario Archivists’ Association in Thunder Bay presents Oral History Workshop: Engaging with Stories on Saturday, November 1, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. at the Mary J.L. Black Library. The workshop is free and open to the public, but you must register. (See registration details below.)

The workshop will be presented by Stacey Zembrzycki, an affiliate assistant professor in the department of history at Concordia University in Montreal. She is also an award-winning modern Canadian oral and public historian of ethnic, immigrant, and refugee experience and the author of According to Baba: A Collaborative Oral History of Sudbury’s Ukrainian Community.

The following description of the workshop appears on the Archives Association of Ontario’s website:

“The stories that people tell matter. They matter for what they reveal about the past and for how they connect us to our families, friends, and communities. The discipline of oral history enables us to give a voice to all of these stories. In this 2-hour workshop, participants will receive basic training in oral history interviewing, ethics, listening, and project design. No prior experience is necessary; everyone can be an oral historian.”

To attend this workshop, you must register by sending an email to

Learn more about the workshop on the AAO website.

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Conference: Quebec goes to war — 1914-1918

The theme of the Fédération des sociétés d’histoire du Quebec’s (Quebec federation of historical societies) two-day fall conference is 1914-1918: Le Québec s’en va-t-en guerre (Quebec goes to war). It will be held at the Royal Military College in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1.

Canadian War Poster Collection, ref. #WP1.R40.F7, McGill University, Montreal.

Canadian War Poster Collection, ref. #WP1.R40.F7, McGill University, Montreal.

Topics include the Royal 22e Régiment, volunteers and conscripted soldiers, war graves, France-Quebec relations during WWI, and the Fort Saint-Jean Museum. It appears that all but one of the lectures will be presented in French. Desmond Morton from McGill University will speak on Friday about How Canadians Prepared for War.

The fee to attend both days of the conference is $75, or $30 for Friday and $50 for Saturday.

Program and registration details are available on the Fédération des sociétés d’histoire du Québec’s website.


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War of 1812 veteran to be honoured in Trenton, Ontario

On Sunday, November 2, the Trent Port Historical Society will hold a special ceremony to honour Private John Johnson, a veteran of the War of 1812. A commemorative marker will be laid on his gravesite in Stockdale Cemetery on Will Johnson Road in Stockdale, Ontario, about 20 kilometres north of Trenton. Before the 2:00 p.m. ceremeony, the society will hold a light reception at the Trenton Town Hall as a collection point to proceed to the cemetery.

Private Johnson was born in 1791 in Upper Canada, possibly near Adolphustown, the son of Loyalists James and Margaret Johnson who left New Jersey in 1791, following the American Revolution. In 1800, the family moved to Ameliasburgh in Prince Edward County where he joined the Prince Edward County Militia to protect Canada from invading American forces during the War of 1812.

Private John Johnson, 1791-1865, Stockdale Cemetery, Trenton, Ontario. Photo credit: Peter Johnson.

Private John Johnson, 1791-1865, Stockdale Cemetery, Trenton, Ontario. Photo credit: Peter Johnson.

Following the war, Johnson lived in Port Hope and later in Murray Township, where he died in 1865.

Private Johnson’s great-great-great-grandson, Peter Johnson, has extensively researched veterans of the War of 1812 in cooperation with the Government of Canada and the War of 1812 Graveside Project. More details on this project can be found at War of 1812 Graveside Project.

The War of 1812 Graveside Project is a non-profit group created to “ensure that the War of 1812 veterans get the recognition that they deserve, not only in the defense of Canada, but also for their dedication in building the foundation of the Canada that we live in today.”

The purpose of the graveside recognition program is to honour the graves of veterans of the War of 1812 and to raise awareness of this time in Canada’s history. This project will provide a future database of biographical information on thousands of veterans of the War of 1812.

Among the list of registered gravesites (and biographies) that have been approved for commemorative markers, only two are in the province of Quebec in St. Matthew’s Cemetery on rue Saint-Jean in Quebec City. War of 1812 veterans George Fowler and Christopher Myers are buried there.

Consider adding St. Matthew’s Cemetery to your list of places to visit in Quebec City and take a self-guided app tour in French or English. (To think I walked by this cemetery dozens of times while I was a student there and never visited it.)

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Wandering in the wilderness to find a cemetery

Effie Margaret Jessie Moore, 1879-1880, St. John's in the Wilderness Cemetery, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136638116. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

Effie Margaret Jessie Moore, 1879-1880, St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136638116. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

As genealogists, we spend some of our research time schlepping about in cemeteries, looking for hard-to-find headstones. Last month, Cliff Carson spent part of his time to find a cemetery where some of his ancestors are buried. He was looking for St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery in Aylwin Township in Quebec’s Outaouais Region in the Gatineau Hills in the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains. It is an Anglican cemetery.

After much searching, Cliff learned the name Wilderness was an appropriate one.

Cliff is a friend of mine. We have known each other for many years when we worked for the same company. He worked in marketing and I worked in public affairs. We first met when he needed someone to make a business presentation for him, and I was assigned the task. He became what we called an internal client of mine.

It was only many years later, after Cliff left the company, that I learned we share a strong interest in family history. We recently re-connected when he sent a message through the Find A Grave website, asking me to transfer a couple of memorials to him.

Cliff has written several books about his family history. His latest project about his fourth great-grandparents, John Baird (c1760) and Eliza Kilgore (c1765) from County Kilgore, Ireland, sent him to the Gatineau Hills just north of Ottawa to look for headstones.

While John and Eliza never immigrated to Canada, at least six of their children did — and it appears they were a fertile lot. So far, Cliff has identified more than 4,500 of their descendants and spouses.

Cliff told me in an email message that his book about John and Eliza was getting too big. “So, I decided not to include copies of most death notices/obituaries/grave marker photos and put them online through Find A Grave and simply refer to the Memorial # as a footnote in the book.”

Wandering in the wilderness
And that is where Cliff’s adventure in the wilderness began. He knew some of his ancestors were buried in a small cemetery, called St. John’s in the Wilderness.

Cliff wrote, “I had a few relatives who I knew to be buried there but I could not find out exactly where the cemetery was located. Some on-line references said it was in Aylwin, Quebec.” He and his wife had found two cemeteries they were looking for, St. Andrew’s United Church in Aylwin and Hillcrest Cemetery just outside Aylwin.

But no St. John’s in the Wilderness.

John James McEwan Marks, 1859-1869, St. John's in the Wilderness Cemetery, Aylwin, Quebec, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136637833. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

John James McEwan Marks, 1859-1869, St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery, Aylwin, Quebec, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136637833. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

Frustrated, but unwilling to give up, Cliff approached an elderly woman who was walking with her grandchildren on the road near St. Andrew’s. She had never heard of St. John’s  in the Wilderness, but did know of a small cemetery nearby that could be the one they were looking for.

Despite the woman’s detailed directions, Cliff was still unable to find the cemetery. Remaining where he was, he called a fellow genealogist in Ottawa who had also tried to find St. John’s without success.Combining the elderly woman’s directions with the genealogist’s internet skills, they figured out where the cemetery must be.


St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery is at the end of a cul-de-sac called Chemin Lebeau and is literally in the wilderness. The cemetery is situated in the Gatineau Hills about a 45-minute drive north of Ottawa on Highway 105. The cut-off from Highway 105 is Chemin de Mulligan Ferry, just north of Aylwin, a very small village not shown on most maps, and south of Gracefield. Chemin de Mulligan leads you to Chemin Lebeau. (Thanks to Cliff, Find A Grave now includes a map and GPS coordinates.)

It was indeed a small cemetery. Whenever Cliff visits a cemetery that has less than 100 markers, he tends to take photos of all the markers he finds and then posts them online on Find A Grave. This is what he did in St. John’s. Like many Find A Grave volunteers, he also added information about the cemetery.

This brass plaque at St. John's in the Wilderness Cemetery in Aylwin, Quebec, documents the history of the Anglican congregation. Find A Grave. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

This brass plaque at St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery in Aylwin, Quebec, documents the history of the Anglican congregation. Find A Grave. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

This is what he transcribed from a brass plaque: “This area was settled around 1854. The congregation of Aylwin was formed shortly thereafter and a church built on this site in 1864. This building was deconsecrated in October 30th, 1960, and moved from this site to the Village of St. Agathe, Quebec, in November 1972. The present Anglican churches in this area are daughter churches of St. John.”

Cemetery map
After taking photos of the grave markers in St. John’s and returning home, Cliff started to research some of the names, even those who are not his relatives. This research helped him decipher some of the harder-to-read stones.

He found a map of the cemetery and a list of interments in Alexa Pritchard’s book, Celebrating 150 Years of Aylwin Township. Although he has corresponded with Ms. Pritchard several times over the years and has often referred to her book, he had not seen the map. To validate the information contained in the map, he asked her where it came from. She told him a lifelong friend had rescued the map from St. John’s in the Wilderness Church before it was moved to Sainte-Agathe to become part of a pioneer village. It was at that point he decided to add the names of all those who are interred there, whether or not there was a grave marker, to Find A Grave.

Joseph Gainford, 1882-1896, Son of James Gainford and Margaret Jane Carr, St. John's in the Wilderness Cemetery, Aylwin, Quebec, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136635911. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

Joseph Gainford, 1882-1896, Son of James Gainford and Margaret Jane Carr, St. John’s in the Wilderness Cemetery, Aylwin, Quebec, 2014. Find A Grave Memorial #136635911. Photo courtesy of Cliff Carson.

At the end of his email message to me, he explained why he photographs and uploads images to Find A Grave: “I love it when I find a cemetery or records which are not readily available and am able to make them available on-line for others to refer to in their research.”

Cliff is a regular contributor to Find A Grave and has posted photos taken in 96 cemeteries, including Montreal’s Notre-Dame-des-Neiges and Mount Royal cemeteries.

You can look at Cliff’s work on Find A Grave in St. John’s in the Wilderness Anglican Cemetery.

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Alberta Family Histories Society seminar to host four speakers

Alberta Family Histories Society websiteOn its Facebook page, the Alberta Family Histories Society describes its fall seminar as “just an afternoon one with four speakers, but it will be jam packed with info and discussion.” “Just”?! Gosh, I’m disappointed I don’t live closer.

The seminar takes place November 15 from 12:30 to 5:00 p.m. at River Park Church, 3818 — 14A Street SW, Calgary.

Featured Speaker: John Althouse will speak on these topics:
But I’m Not a Writer! You can and must write your family history.
Weaving the Tapestry: Combining the elements to write a family history of a Ukrainian Canadian Family.

The other guest speakers are:
Marion Peterson, Ontario SIG: Five Tips for Researching Your Roots in Ontario.
Ann Williams, English/Welsh SIG: Unraveling the Families of Blodwen Lloyd of Flintshire, Wales, and Hannah Street of Surrey, England.
Lois Sparling, Celtic SIG: Finding Places of Origin in Ireland.

The cost for the afternoon is $20 for members and $40 for non-members, which provides you with a one-year membership. To register and for more information, visit their website.

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