Visual Phasing is a technique whereby the DNA of siblings is assigned to each of the four grandparents. It is usually done with 3 siblings, though you can adapt the technique, as I did, with 2 siblings and a nephew. As I mentioned in that post, I knew I want to try it as soon as I heard about it. I wasn’t really sure whether it would be helpful for me, but I was curious about the technique. While I was waiting for my sister’s and nephew’s results, I was chatting with a genealogist I know who referred to Visual Phasing as a “party trick”. She didn’t feel that there was much to be gained from doing it.
Having now mapped most of my chromosomes using Visual Phasing, I respectfully disagree – at least for me. Your mileage may vary.
Following are a couple of ways that Visual Phasing has helped me:
1. I can easily identify whether a match is on a line of interest
The vast majority of my DNA matches are on my maternal grandmother’s side, as this line has deep Colonial American roots. As discussed in a previous post, I’m currently particularly interested in matches on my maternal grandfather’s side, as that’s where I’m attempting to break down a brick wall.
When I get a new match on GEDMatch, MyHeritage or FTDNA, I can quickly and easily figure out which side the match is on. For example, on GEDMatch, when I get a new match, I run a “Multi Kit Analysis”, select “Manual Kit Selection/Entry”, enter the new kit number in the 1st box, then compare it against my mother (FC), me, my sister (JK) and my nephew (RM):
I click on Visualization Options, and select 2-D Chromosome Browser
For this match, I see that on Chromosome 11, she or he matches my mother (so I know it’s on my maternal line), matches R from 115 to 129, and matches me (L) from 119 to 129. I compare this to the phased chromosome:
As you can see by the the section outlined in red, this must be a Prowse match (purple). Since that’s my mother’s paternal side, the line I’m particularly interested in, I add this match to my spreadsheet as a match of interest. Doing this systematically has helped me develop a subset of matches to work with.
2. I have a much better understanding of how DNA is passed down.
When I first got my DNA results and started working with matches, there was a lot I didn’t quite get, like:
Why, with some matches, do I share the exact same amount as my mother, with some I share about half, and with others still I don’t share any at all?
Why do I match some people that my sister doesn’t, and vice versa?
How can my nephew share more with a person than I do, when he’s one generation farther back from the match than I am?
I have since learned that these are extremely common questions. I quickly learned that the stock answer is “because of the randomness of how DNA is inherited”. It was only when I started doing visual phasing that I really got it. It makes sense to me now. For example, with the match above my mother and my nephew (her grandson) share about the same amount with this person, I share a bit less, and J is not a match at all. And that’s totally normal.
It took seeing it for me to really understand.
I know that not everybody can do Visual Phasing. If you don’t have siblings to work with, you’re out of luck. But if you do, it’s worth considering. Of course, only you can decide if there’s a value to you – it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.
For me, it was worth it. Plus, it’s kinda fun – but then again, spreadsheets and graphics make me happy.
What do you think? Party trick, or valuable tool in the genetic genealogy toolbox?
This week’s prompt for the 52 Ancestors challenge is “Favourite Name”. I’ve come across some great names in my family tree – names like Snowball, Silver and Submit. But none of these are in my direct line. Oh no, my direct line is full of Williams and Johns and Elizabeths and Sarahs, with the odd biblical name like Hezekiah and Mehitable thrown in for good measure. So I decided this week to go with my 5th great grandfather, Joseph Providence Richardson. While I don’t know a lot about him, what I do know explains the story behind his name.
John and Mary were both born in Yorkshire, England and were married 1765 in Hutton Rudby, Mary’s home town. Following the birth of their first two children, they left their homeland for a new life in the Colonies. They were among the over 1,000 immigrants from Yorkshire who settled in the Chignecto Isthmus (the neck of land between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (Canada) between 1772 and 1775.
In April 1774, John, Mary and their two children, Christopher and Elizabeth, boarded the Providence in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. There were 72 passengers on board. When it arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia some 5 weeks later, there were 73.
That newborn, named Joseph Providence Richardson, was my ancestor.
The Richardsons settled in Sackville, New Brunswick, where Joseph became a farmer. He married Jane Patterson and they had 5 daughters and 3 sons, including my 4th great grandfather, John P. Richardson.
I’ve always loved logic puzzles, so when I first heard about Visual Phasing as a way to determine which segments of my DNA I got from which grandparent, I knew I had to try it. Problem is, you need three siblings to do Visual Phasing, but as my oldest sister died over ten years ago, I only have two siblings to work with. But I do have a nephew, my oldest sister’s son. When I saw a blog post on Genealogy Lady about VP with 2 siblings, I figured I should be able to adapt the process to working with 2 siblings and a nephew. Besides, I also have my mother’s DNA results, so that would be a big help.
Both my sister and nephew agreed to be tested. While I waited for their results to come in, I started practising using a friend’s results, along with his two siblings. I did enough to get a feel for how it worked. That was very helpful before trying to adapt it to my situation.
Here’s the process I followed. I’m assuming that you understand the basics of Visual Phasing, so I won’t be explaining every step – only the ones that differ from the standard 3-sibling approach. See here for the basics, and if you’re going to attempt Visual Phasing, I highly recommend you join the Visual Phasing group on Facebook. I used Steven Fox’s fabulous Excel Visual Phasing spreadsheet (available through the Facebook group).
Here’s the setup:
L – me
J – my sister
R – my nephew
Paternal grandfather – Cooper (orange)
Paternal grandmother – Sharpe (blue)
Maternal grandfather – Prowse (purple)
Maternal grandmother – Hicks (green)
In the setup, I included my mother in the cousin table. While this wouldn’t be of much use with 3 siblings, since all would share a complete chromosome with her, including her is very useful for comparing to my nephew R (her grandson). While I don’t have any 1st or 2nd cousins to work with, I have a few 2C1Rs on my Cooper side, and lots of 3rd-4th cousins on my Hicks side. I have very few known cousins on my Sharpe or Prowse lines (at least not that have uploaded to GEDMatch, or anywhere else with a chromosome browser).
Figure 1: I started with my mother in the extra view, and set the crossover points
Note that in addition to the crossovers that you see in the top section, there’s an additional one for R compared to his grandmother (outlined in red). I included that as well, even though it doesn’t appear when comparing R against L or J.
Figure 2: I added the megabase values and assigned the crossovers.
Red circles – these crossovers clearly belong to R
Blue circles – the first one is J, 2nd is L
Green circles – these ones are either L or J, but I can’t tell which
Purple circles – the crossovers at either end are confusing. I’ll leave them unlabelled for now and come back to them later.
Figure 3: I shaded out the unnecessary parts of R’s chromosome.
This is where it is different using a nephew instead of a sibling or a even a half sibling. When I first did this, I shaded out the whole paternal (upper) chromosome, since I only share R’s maternal chromosome with him (he’s my sister’s son). In the maternal (lower) chromosome, I used all four grandparents. When his mother (my sister) passed on her chromosome to him, recombination would mean that he would get segments from all 4 of her grandparents (his great-grandparents).
The spreadsheet gave me an error message every time I had more than two grandparents represented on the same line. I posted in the Visual Phasing Facebook group asking how I could turn off the warning. Someone suggested that I do it this way instead, which worked much better.
So in Figure 3 (above), where the bottom line is blacked out, it means that R received his mother’s paternal chromosome and there is no match to his maternal grandmother (seen in the extra view). Where the top line is blacked out, R received his mother’s maternal chromosome, as can be seen in the extra view.
Figure 4: Here’s where we start assigning segments. I found it easiest to always start with R, and since I knew whether the segment was maternal or paternal, I didn’t need to use G1, G2, G3, G4 at all, and could start straight away with P1, P2 and M1, M2.
I picked a maternal segment of R’s, and labelled it M1. Since L&R match and J&R don’t, L=M1 and J=M2. And since L&J don’t match on that segment at all, I set the paternal segments to L=P1 and J=P2.
Figure 5: I could then extend to the next crossover points.
Figure 6: There’s a crossover on either side of R’s M1. On the right, it clearly goes from M1 to M2. On the left, it switches from M to P. Since he matches L and not J, it must be P1.
On the far left, there’s a crossover at 2.6. Before that crossover, R matches both L and J, but L and J don’t match each other. Could it be that L and J do match, but it doesn’t show up with the GEDMatch defaults of 7cM and 500 SNPs?
I ran a GEDMatch comparison of L & J and dropped the thresholds to 3cM and 300 SNPs:
Sure enough, L & J do match at the beginning (and also at the end, we’ll come to this later). Therefore, the crossover at 2.6 must belong to J (Figure 7), and it’s a crossover on the paternal side.
Figure 8: At 36, there’s a crossover that I already established belongs to J. Since we know that R is maternal at this point, and J&R changes from matching to not matching at this point, then this must be a maternal crossover, where J changes from M2 to M1.
Figure 9: At 44.5, R changes from maternal to paternal (don’t forget, that’s not his paternal, it’s his mothers. We’re not dealing with his paternal chromosome at all). Since he matches L, it must be P1. Then, at 82, it changes from P1 to P2, and stays the same until R’s next crossover.
Figure 10: At 92.7 and 107, there are crossovers belonging to L or J, but we don’t know which. It’s not on the paternal side, as there’s no change in the match of either to R. But which is it? Does L change from M1 to M2, or does J?
We’re stuck. Without knowing which one changes here, we can’t go any further. Nor can we know whether R’s next section is M1 or M2. Time to start bringing in some cousins. Maybe that will help.
Figure 11: First up, is George, my 2C1R on my Cooper (paternal) side. Since he matches L but not J, we now know that P1 = Cooper (orange) and P2 = Sharpe (blue).
Figure 12: Next up, is E. Hicks, a 3C1R on my Hicks (maternal) side.
Because she matches in the new section, we know that the maternal side there is Hicks. Note that if you’re using Stephen Fox’s Excel spreadsheet to do this, you will get an error if you have more than 2 entries on the same line (like here, where I have M1, M2 and Hicks). You just need to click OK, and you can keep going.
Although it looks like the match between L & E. Hicks extends farther on the right than J, if you look at the numbers, they both end at 113,620,851.
However, since J’s match only begins at 107, we now know that that crossover must belong to J. As well, we can do some extending to the right (Figure 13).
But what about the crossover at 92.9 (outlined in red)? It could be an L crossover, which would mean that M1 = Prowse. Or it could be a J crossover, which would mean that M1=Hicks. Which is it?
Fortunately, I have another known 4th cousin match on Chr. 11 (along with a larger segment on another chromosome). I hadn’t included him when I entered cousins into the spreadsheet, so I ran a GEDMatch Multi Kit Analysis on GW, FC (my mother) and the three of us.
G.W. is a match on the Prowse side. Therefore, we know that M1=Prowse and thus the crossover at 92.9 belongs to L (Figure 14). So M2=Hicks.
Figure 15: The crossover at 119.2 belongs to L. And since there’s R and L match after that point, it must be a maternal crossover from Hicks to Prowse.
Which brings us to the final crossover, after which it appears that nobody matches anyone else. However, it’s impossible for R to match neither L or J, if L & J don’t match each other. There must be some matching at a lower threshold.
L & J:
L & R: No match
J & R:
Therefore, we need a crossover that will result in L=J, L≠R, J=R
If the crossover belongs to L (paternal), then L=J, but L=R and J≠R
If the crossover belong to L (maternal), then L=J and L≠R, but J≠R
If the crossover belongs to J (paternal), then L=J, but L=R and J≠R
If the crossover belongs to J (maternal), then L=J and J=R, but L=R
If the crossover belongs to R, then J=R and L=R, but L≠J
I may like logic puzzles, but that just broke my brain. Maybe there are two crossovers. Maybe one of those matches is real and one isn’t. In any case, I looked at each of our matches on GEDMatch’s Matching Segment Search tool (Tier 1), and none of us have any matches at that part of the chromosome (at least not at the default thresholds), and it’s a very small segment (3.8cM) so I’m not going to worry about that little bit at the end, at least for now.
So, the last step is to merge the segments, and here we have it:
Or to just look at the chromosomes:
You can see that on the paternal side, I (L) received a complete Cooper chromosome, whereas J received an almost complete Sharpe one. R’s mother got both. We all have some recombination on the maternal side.
Chromosome 11 was a fairly easy one to figure out (with the exception of that end bit), since I had some good cousin matches to work with. In a later post, I’ll share some of the more challenging ones I faced. As well, I’ll do a post on how VP has helped me in my research.
Until then, if you have any thoughts or questions on this, or if you need any clarification, please leave a comment and I’d be happy to respond.
This is the story of how a census entry helped me discover the parents of my 2nd great grandmother, Ellen (or Helen) Easton. It all started when I was researching my great grandmother, Wilhelmina (Minnie) Kirkland. I first found Minnie as a 2 year old on the 1861 New Brunswick Census:
From this census, I had Minnie’s mother’s name as Helen, born about 1836 in PEI of Scottish origin. I discovered her maiden name easily enough – I found the marriage record for John W. Kirkland and Ellen Easton, who married in Chatham, NB on November 2, 1854.
And on the 1891 census, she’s listed as Hellen Easton Kirkland, born about 1828 in PEI, with a father was born in Scotland and a mother born in Ireland.
So this is what I had…
Not a lot to go on. I was unable to find anything giving Ellen’s parents’ names. But I did find this:
Exciting as it was to know that my ancestor was a ventriloquist, I was even more interested in the last line “Mrs. Kirkland, who survives him, is a sister of Surveyor General Tweedie.” Huh? Everything else I had found said that Mrs. Kirkland was an Easton.
I had seen this Tweedie name before….
1871 Census – Next door to John & Ellen Kirkland were some Tweedies
1881 – Marriage of my great grandparents Minnie Kirkland and Albert Prowse – witness L.J. Tweedie
1891 – Marriage of Minnie’s youngest sister – newspaper announcement mentions that “Among friends present were Hon. L.J. Tweedie, M.P.P and Miss Tweedie of Chatham.
So who was this L. J. Tweedie?
Lemuel John Tweedie practiced law in Chatham, NB. He was admitted to the Bar in 1871, at the age of 22. His Law partner was R.B. Bennett, who would later become the Prime Minister of Canada
Tweedie was first elected to the NB Legislature at age 25. At 51 he became Premier of NB, for 7 years. Then Lieutenant Governor for 5.
He was the son of Irish immigrants, Joseph Tweedie Jr & Catherine McGary
Interesting, but none of this answered the question of whether he was the brother of my Ellen Easton, who was some 20 years older than him and born in PEI. Obviously there was a long-standing connection between the families, but what? Could she have been his aunt perhaps, and not his sister? Or maybe she was a Tweedie and Easton was her married name from a first marriage?
I had no luck finding anything that would lead me to Ellen’s parents. But then one day, while searching the PEI newspapers for information on my my great grandfather, Albert P. Prowse, I came upon her obituary.
“The late Mrs. Kirkland was born in Rexton, NB and was a half-sister of Lt. Governor Tweedie of New Brunswick.” Well, her birth place was wrong, but could her being a half-sister to Lt. Gov. Tweedie be a clue? Perhaps researching Tweedie’s family would uncover something that researching Ellen Easton’s family had not.
Since Lemuel Tweedie was born 1849, the obvious place to start was the 1851 NB census. There he was, age 2, with his parents Joseph & Catherine Tweedie, as expected, along with two older sisters, ages 5 and 9. But look who else was in the household….
Ellen, age 25. I may have said “Gotchya” so loud I startled the cat. And this explains why I could never find her on the 1851 census – she was not listed as an “Easton”, she was listed as a “Tweedie”
As there were only 13 years between Ellen and Joseph Tweedie, could Ellen have been Catherine’s daughter from a 1st marriage? I started looking for more on Joseph and Catherine, and found a newspaper notice for the marriage in 1841 between Joseph Tweedy and Mrs. Catherine Easton.
And BINGO. A marriage between Catherine McGeary and William Easton in 1825.
Who were Catherine McGary’s parents? Where in County Down was she born? As per the 1851 census, she was born in 1805 and came to Canada in 1817 at age 12. Did she come alone or with her parents?
What happened to William Easton? There was a William Easton who died in PEI of excessive drinking in 1833. Was this him?
Where and when was William Easton born, and who were his parents. An autosomal DNA match has shed some light on this, but that’s a story for another day.
And speaking of the census, Ellen (or Helen) is one of those miraculous women we hear about who did not age at a steady rate. Here’s her age in each of the 7 years I found her in the census:
Since the first and the last are consistent (born in 1826), I’ve gone with that as her year of birth, but who knows for sure. Not even her or her family, by the looks of it. And was her name Ellen or Helen? Hard to say. But at least I’ve figured out who her parents were, so I’m counting that as a win!
I was going to call this post “Breaking down a brick wall with DNA”, but decided that would be false advertising. I’m hoping that eventually this will become a case study (to go along with my case study on Using mtDNA for Genealogy), but first I have to actually break down a brick wall. But I’m nothing if not optimistic, so consider this a case study in progress!
As do most of us, I have a number of brick walls. Over the past few years, I’ve intermittently worked at some them, with varying degrees of success. I’m hoping that DNA can help me break through at least a few. I did my first autosomal DNA test at the beginning of 2015, with Family Tree DNA (FTDNA). Since then, I’ve also tested with AncestryDNA, have tested my mother on both FTDNA and Ancestry, and have tested a couple of other family members on Ancestry. I’ve uploaded our results to GEDMatch and MyHeritage.
To date, I’ve taken a somewhat scattershot approach to working with my DNA results. I get easily distracted and start down one path, only to then chase a new shiny down another. I’ve made a decision. It’s time to…
I’ve decided to pick a brick wall and chip away at it systematically until it crumbles. I’m going to focus on John William Kirkland and Elizabeth Weeks (okay, that’s two brick walls, but they were a couple, so it makes sense to work on both of them). I wrote about Elizabeth Weeks in my first 52 Ancestors post. John W. Kirkland will likely be the focus of a future post. John and Elizabeth were the grandparents of my great-grandmother, Wilhelmina (Minnie) Kirkland.
I’ve picked them for a few reasons:
I have a 2nd cousin (also a great-grandchild of Minnie Kirkland) and a 2nd cousin, once removed (a grandchild of Minnie’s brother, Lebert) who have tested on Ancestry. These matches help me identify shared matches that are Kirkland/Weeks descendants
I have a critical mass of matches on this line. To date, by using shared matches and building out some people’s trees, I have identified 12 family groups who descend from 4 of their 9 (or so) children.
I have a great collaborator on this research, a 4th cousin who is also a Kirkland/Weeks descendant – Andrew McKnight (who is also a very talented musician – check out his website!).
I have already done a lot of traditional genealogy research on this family, so I have a good starting base. Most of this has been documented on the WikiTree profiles of John William Kirkland and Elizabeth Weeks and their children.
Here’s what I know
The predominant theory about the Kirkland/Weeks family found around the internet seems to all come from an Encyclopedia Titanica profile of Charles Leonard Kirkland, who died on the Titanic. This article includes the following:
Charles Leonard Kirkland was born in March of 1841 in Miramichi, Northumberland County, New Brunswick, the fourth child of John V. Kirkland and Elizabeth Sarah Weeks. The Weeks family had emigrated to New Brunswick from England circa 1820 and John Kirkland, a silk merchant, had emigrated to New Brunswick from Glasgow, Scotland in the early 1830’s. Following their marriage, they moved frequently between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as John built up his importing business. Charles spent his early years in Miramichi where his older brothers, John (born in 1832), James (born in 1835) and William had also been born and raised.
The family relocated to Summerside, Prince Edward Island in 1845, where the first daughter of the family, Lavinia Rebecca, was born in 1849 and the youngest child, Emma Lydia, was born in 1855.
Breaking this down:
John V. Kirkland…a silk merchant, had emigrated to New Brunswick from Glasgow, Scotland in the early 1830s.
I believe John’s middle name was William
I’ve found no evidence that he was a silk merchant. Everything I have found points to him being a cabinet maker
I’ve found no evidence that he emigrated from Scotland in the 1830s. Every source I have found has him born in New Brunswick (maybe Boiestown?), probably around 1802 (though sources vary). Perhaps his father came from Glasgow?
Elizabeth Sarah Weeks. The Weeks family had emigrated to New Brunswick from England circa 1820…
I’ve found nothing that gives a middle name of Sarah
I’ve found no evidence that she emigrated from England around 1820. Anything I’ve found on her children that lists their mother’s place of birth has either New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island or the United States. Not England.
Following their marriage, they moved frequently between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, as John built up his importing business. Charles spent his early years in Miramichi where his older brothers, John (born in 1832), James (born in 1835) and William had also been born and raised.
They did move between NB and PEI, as they had children born in both provinces, though I don’t think it was to build up an importing business.
I’ve confirmed sons John (my 2g grandfather) and James, but I’ve found nothing on a William. My 2ggf’s name was John W. Kirkland – I’m assuming the W. is William, like his father. Was there a son William as well?
The family relocated to Summerside, Prince Edward Island in 1845, where the first daughter of the family, Lavinia Rebecca, was born in 1849 and the youngest child, Emma Lydia, was born in 1855.
There was an older daughter, Rebecca Melvina, b. 1834 in New Brunswick. She married in 1854 and died in 1857.
Lavinia (seen in records as Leavinia) was probably born about 1844. There is a New Brunswick late registration of birth stating she was born in 1849, but considering she had her first child in 1860, 1844 is more likely. Her birth record was created in 1929, when she was about 85, so it’s not a surprise that the year is wrong.
Emma Lydia was indeed born in PEI, likely in 1855 (sources vary).
Most of the Encyclopedia Titanica article focuses on Charles’s life as an itinerant preacher in Maine. I’ve found lots of evidence that corroborates this part of the story (and it is a really interesting read!)
However, I’m still not sure about why he went to Glasgow (which ultimately lead to his booking passage on the Titanic to get home). The article states:
He left Tuxford in November of 1911 to sail to Glasgow, Scotland to settle the estate of his fathers two brothers, who were reputed to have owned a business in Glasgow which was to be inherited by the John V. Kirkland family in America. Charles was commissioned by the family to settle the estate in the interest of the entire family.
The article includes a photo of a letter sent by Charles to his daughter from Glasgow, which includes the line “I have not yet found any of Uncle’s brothers and if I can’t find them I won’t be able to get the money”.
I’ve tried to use this information to make a connection to Kirklands in Glasgow, but so far, to no avail. There was a Kirkland who died in Glasgow in September 1911, but he was far too young to have been an Charles’s uncle. I’ll write more about this in a later post.
What I’ve done to date
Visual Phasing, so that I can identify which of my mother’s matches on GEDMatch come from her paternal side;
Started reviewing other match’s trees to look for common surnames/locations. So far, Woodworth and Blakely are names that keep popping up, but I’ve not yet determined if there’s a link.
Now that I’ve identified a number of matches who are descendants of John Kirkland and Elizabeth Weeks, other people who multiple known descendants, or who match on a DNA segment identified as having come from this couple, are either a) also Kirkland/Weeks descendants or b) descendants of an ancestor of either John Kirkland or Elizabeth Weeks. This latter group could help me break through the brick walls.
Here’s what I need to do now:
Contact all AncestryDNA matches that I’ve identified as being on my mother’s paternal side to request that they upload to GEDMatch (or MyHeritage or FTDNA or anywhere with a chromosome browser!);
Contact Kirkland/Weeks matches with no trees to see if they a) have a tree elsewhere or b) can provide me with sufficient information to build out a tree;
Explore tools to identify common surnames/locations in a more systematic way;
Go through MyHeritage and FTDNA matches to identify other Kirkland/Weeks matches;
Contact relevent GEDMatch matches to see if they have trees I can view.
Determine what target testing might be useful;
Look for any opportunities to add yDNA or mtDNA to the testing mix;
In addition to using DNA, I’ll continue with traditional genealogical research. Specifically, I’d like to try to track down the sources used in the Encylopdia Titanica article, to see if this might help reconcile the differences I’ve found.
I plan to blog about the various techniques I’ve already used and my future research, so if this interests you, stay tuned. I’ll use the category “Chipping Away at a Brick Wall” for anything related to this research.
If you’re a descendant of John William Kirkland and Elizabeth Weeks and you’ve done a DNA test (or plan to), please do let me know and I would be most appreciative if you would upload your results to GEDMatch (there are step by step instructions here). Even if you don’t match me or my mother, you may match some of the other known descendants. Even if you have not done a DNA test, I’d love to hear from you. You just may have the piece of the puzzle we need!
I thought I’d share some of the tools and sites I used to research Senator Samuel Prowse, the subject of my last 52 Ancestors post, along with other ancestors from PEI (including my next 52 Ancestors subject – stay tuned!). This list is by no means exhaustive, but covers some my more frequently used sources.
If your ancestors were politicians or anyone else who would be likely to be written about in the paper, newspapers are an invaluable source of information. Even if they weren’t, newspapers are often a source of birth, marriage and death announcements. And its a great way to better understand the world our ancestors lived in.
Many PEI newspapers from the late 1800s to the mid 1900s are available in a free, searchable, online database at Islandnewspapers.ca. Unfortunately, there are some dates/issues missing (like January 1902 when Samuel Prowse died – oh how I want to find his obituary!), but overall, it’s an incredibly valuable resource.
The following censuses are available for PEI:
1841 – Lists heads of household only. Includes occupation of head of household, sex and ages of household members, religion, land holdings, agricultural production, country of origin of household members. Can be searched on the PEI Provincial Archives and Record Office (PARO) site. None of my names were found on this search, but maybe you’ll be luckier than I was.
1861 – Lists heads of household only. Includes occupation of head of household, sex and ages of household members, religion, land holdings, agricultural production, country of origin of household members. Available at Library and Archives Canada (free), Ancestry (requires subscription), FamilySearch (free, no images)
1881- Lists all household members, sex, age, country or province of birth, religion, origin, occupation, marital status, infirmities. Note that it does not include relationship to head of household, so you might assume someone is the child of the head of household when they are actually not. Available at Library and Archives Canada (free), Ancestry (requires subscription) FamilySearch (free, no images)
1891 – Lists all household members, sex, age, marital status, relationship to head of household, country or province of birth, place of birth of father, place of birth of mother, religion, occupation, employment status, able to read/write, infirmaries. Available at Library and Archives Canada (free), Ancestry (requires subscription), Family Search (free, no images).
1901 – Lists all household members, sex, colour, relationship to head of household, marital status, date of birth, age, country or place of birth, year of immigration to Canada, year of naturalization, racial or tribal origin, nationality, religion, occupation, employment status, education, language, infirmities. Available at Library and Archives Canada (free), Ancestry (requires subscription), FamilySearch (free, no images).
1911 – Lists all household members, residence, sex, relationship to head of household, month and year of birth, age, country or place of birth, year of immigration, year of naturalization, racial or tribal origin, nationality, religion, occupation, employment information, insurance held, education and language, infirmities. Available at Library and Archives Canada (free), Ancestry (requires subscription), FamilySearch (free, no images).
1921 – List of all household members, residence, type of home, relationship to head of household, sex, marital status, age, place of birth, father’s place of birth, mother’s place of birth, year of immigration, year of naturalization, nationality, racial or tribal origin, language, education, occupation, employment information. Available at Library and Archives Canada (free), Ancestry (requires subscription).
I especially love the parents’ place of birth on the 1891 and 1921 census, and the birth date on the 1901 census (but take that with a grain of salt, the year is frequently wrong!).
Here’s a hint for accessing Canadian census records if you don’t have an Ancestry subscription (or if you’re a non-Canadian who does not have a worldwide subscription) – All of the Canadian censuses are available on the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) website. However, the search function on that site is less than ideal – you have to have the exact spelling (with or without wildcards) to get the entry. FamilySearch, on the other hand, has a better search function, but does not have the images of the census pages (unless you access them from a Family History Centre). So I like to use a combination of the two – I’ll first do a search on FamilySearch, see how the name was spelled (eg Prouse instead of Prowse), then use that spelling at LAC to find the census images. Works like a charm!
Birth, Marriage, Death records
Civil registration only began in PEI in 1906. Prior to that, BMD information can mostly be found via church records. There are some indices available on PARO and FamilySearch, but I’ve found it pretty hit and miss on whether someone’s included. As well, FamilySearch has images of church records that have not been indexed: Prince Edward Island Church Records, 1777-1985
Once you know the location and religion (which you can get from the census), I’ve had pretty good luck going through the church records page by page to find names of interest. Or when I do find them in the index, and it provides the church record number, I can then go look at the church records to find the actual entry.
The biggest drawback of PEI BMD records is that marriage records don’t include parent’s names and baptismal records rarely include the mother’s maiden name (at least not in the non-Catholic churches).
Master Name Index
The Master Name Index has been compiled from a variety of sources, such as cemetery transcripts, selected newspapers, funeral home registers, the 1880 Meacham’s Atlas and other sources. It’s available at the PEI Archives, but if, like me, you don’t get to PEI often, there are copies on microfilm available at other places. In Ottawa, there’s a copy in the Genealogy Room at Library and Archives Canada.
Family Histories and other goodies
Genealogies and family histories compiled by previous researchers are a great starting point for further research. I’m fortunate to have a copy of “The Descendants of James Willis and Samuel M. Smith”, compiled by Vernon E. Hargraves, 1980.
As well, a great source for family histories (and many many other things) is Dave Hunter’s The Island Register. You can also sign up for Dave’s weekly newsletter to be informed of new things added to the site.
And finally, don’t forget to use Google or your search engine of choice, especially if you’re dealing with a less common name and/or a prominent person. Here’s a list of things I found just by googling “Senator Samuel Prowse PEI”
This week’s prompt for the 52 Ancestors challenge is “Invite to Dinner”. Well, who better to invite to dinner than my 2nd great grandfather, Samuel Prowse. Not only would he be likely to bring some delicious food, what with being an exporter of fish, lobster and agricultural produce from Prince Edward Island, I’m sure he could also be counted on for some scintillating political conversation. Samuel was in politics for over 30 years, including 13 years in the Canadian Senate (and unlike a more recent senator from Prince Edward Island, he actually lived there).
Samuel Prowse was born in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island in August 1835. He was the 6th of William Prowse and Agnes Rider‘s 7 children. William and Agnes had emigrated from Devon, England in the mid-1820s, with their son Joseph in tow (their first son, Richard, having lived only a month). They had 5 more children after they settled in Charlottetown.
Samuel married Eliza Elizabeth Willis on October 17, 1856. Eliza was born in Wiltshire, England in 1834 and had immigrated to Prince Edward Island with her family at the age of 8. Samuel and Eliza had two children in Charlottetown – Frederick in 1857 and Albert (my great-grandfather) in 1858. In 1859, the family moved to Murray Harbour, PEI, where Samuel went into business. Eliza died 3 weeks after giving birth to their first daughter, also named Eliza Elizabeth, in February 1860. Tragically, the baby only lived for a few months, and son Frederick died a couple of years later, at the age of 6.
A year after the Eliza’s death, Samuel married her older sister, Louisa Jane Willis. He had two more children with Louisa – William, b. 1862 and Samuel, b. 1869.
Samuel’s business, first Prowse and Son and later, when William joined the business, Prowse and Sons, flourished in Murray Harbour and became a major employer in the region. In addition to a operating General Store, Prowse & Sons exported dried fish, canned lobster and agricultural produce. The business included a starch factory that used local potatoes to produce starch, a lumberyard, and even a can factory, where employees made cans throughout the winter for use during the next canning season.
In addition to his successful commercial ventures, Samuel also had a long political career. He first entered politics in 1867, at the age of 32, when he was elected to the PEI Legislative Assembly. He was defeated in the 1873 election, but then was re-elected in 1876. He remained in the PEI legislature (except for a brief period in 1882 when he was defeated in the general election and then re-elected in a bye-election the same year) until Sept. 14, 1889, when he was appointed to the Canadian Senate by Sir John A. MacDonald. He remained in the Senate until his death in 1902.
He also advocated on behalf of the Lobster Packers and Fishermen Association. At a meeting on December 31, 1890, Hon. Senator Prowse was thanked for his “services in the interest of the packers and lobster fishermen of this Province in presenting our case to the Department at Ottawa, working indefatigably to have the Government recognize the reasonable demands of the packers and fishermen.” (The Guardian, Charlottetown, December 31, 1890, Pg 2)
As a symbol of his success and status, Samuel Prowse had a substantial home built in Murray Harbour around 1875. The house remains a prominent landmark in the village of Murray Harbour, and has been identified as one of Canada’s Historic Places. This house was owned by three generations of Prowses -Samuel, his son Albert (my great grandfather), and his son Gerald (my great uncle) before being sold.
Samuel died on January 14, 1902 and was buried in the Murray Harbour Old Cemetery.
Senator Samuel Prowse was the first ancestor that I got to know, and one of the easiest to research. It all started in the mid-late 1970s when my family was contacted by Vernon Hargrave, a distant cousin who was researching my 3rd great grandfather, James Willis (father of Samuel’s wives Eliza and Louisa). In 1980, we received a 180-page, typewritten, photocopied, spiral-bound history of the Willis family that included lots of information on Samuel. Almost 30 years later, I came upon it again while going through a box of photos and documents at my mother’s, and it was a great starting point for researching Samuel (and the rest of the family). I’m amazed at how much information Vernon was able to gather in a pre-internet age.
The best thing about having a politician ancestor is that they’re easy to find. How I wish I could find this much information about some of the others!