Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Family Stories, Fact or Fiction

In the summer of 1971, I spent most of the summer painting our grandparents house on Maude Street in Point Edward. Why it took me most of the summer to paint a relatively small house that was mostly covered in aluminum siding is a story in itself. I was heading off to university in September and having saved enough for at least the first year, I was in no particular rush to finish the painting and be required to find a real job. As an added inducement to my slothful behaviour, our southern neighbours had ratified the 26th Amendment to their Constitution on July 1, 1971, suspending the court challenges to Richard Nixon's Amendments to the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The result of which was to reduce the voting age to eighteen in the US. Within days the Ontario government upped the ante, and reduced both the voting and the drinking age to eighteen. 

Painting a small house now meant a summer of sleeping in, a few hours of painting, afternoons at nearby Canatara beach, and cash for evenings at the previously off limits nightclubs with my high school buddies.

The actual painting started most days around ten AM and often included a family story by our grandfather Ernie over a long lunch on the back porch, which generally consisted of sandwiches made from canned salmon on spongy white bread, butter tarts, and an ice cold Labatt’s 50. Ernie had his pipe and I typically made it to beach by two PM. What a life!

The Stories

Ernie told me his grand-mother’s family had originally traveled by oxcart from New York to Canada and had settled on a log cabin on Sarnia Bay in the approximate area bounded by what is now London Road, Durand Street and Christina Street. The log cabin was sold, replaced by the Lambton County Courthouse and Goal (jail) in 1852, which in turn was demolished in 1963. By 1971 the farm was the site of the Chalet Motel, now the Super 8 Motel.

Another story had his great-grandmother daubing red paint on the cheeks of her children in the hopes that the local Indians would be fooled into thinking the children were infected with contagious smallpox and leave them alone.

Yet another tale had relatives from the US showing up at his grand-mother’s funeral, which was held during the Great Depression, in their own private rail car. Ernie thought they were in the lumber business, but his details were rather sketchy.

Ernie also told me that he had traveled west to Alberta as a young man and had worked as a cowboy on a ranch near Carmangay, Alberta. As the tale went, they always carried extra tobacco when riding the range so as to be able to distribute it to the local Indians, in order to encourage the Indians to leave them, and their cattle, alone.

The fifth and final story that I remember had Ernie, and his younger brother Russell, homesteading near Bentley, Alberta just prior to the First Wold War. He could not stand the cold, which varied from 40 below to 40 above in a single day, so he returned to Sarnia to a job as a “still man” in the Imperial Oil refinery in order to keep warm.

Oddly, he never me told any stories from either his youth in Petrolia, or his military service in the 1st World War. Other than a faded picture in the dining room of a town in Belgium, I can't recall any mention any of his wartime experiences. Also absent was any mention of his parents or siblings. At the time this didn't seem strange to me, as other than his younger brother Cec, I had never met any of his siblings. My limited interview skills resulted in me erroneously concluding that our family was quite small.

Why Am I Doing This?

These snippets of history pretty well summed up my understanding of the Hayes family history for the next 25 years or so. After graduating with a BA in history and political science in 1975, I managed a side trip to visit Carmangay, Alberta next spring on a ski trip to Banff. However other than some rusting farm equipment and a few decaying grain elevators, there was not much to see. Ernie had passed away a few months earlier and as I did not have any idea of what I was looking for, I just took a couple of snapshots and moved on. I did not think about our ancestry for over 20 years with the possible exception of a business dinner in 1986 with my boss, who, as a Utah Mormon, thought it was within his right to interrogate me on my ancestry. Several years later, at dinner with another Utah Mormon, a client from Salt Lake City whose mother's maiden name was Hayes, I was questioned on our family. At the time I failed to understand why they were so intrigued by our long lost relatives.

It was only after the funeral of my father, Ted in 1997 that I realized that not only did I not know if Ernie's stories were accurate, but I did not have a clue about who our ancestors were. My uncle Laverne provided me with a brief family tree for the Wray side of my family that had been prepared by my 3rd cousin from Oil Springs, but the Hayes side was pretty much a blank page. Nonetheless, I dutifully bought a computer program and recorded what I knew over the next 14 years. I wrote letters to Ottawa and obtained the military records of Ernie, Ted, my mother Mabel, as well as my father in law, Norm. But the story was still skinny as most of my research had resulted in dead ends, or “brick walls” in genealogy speak.

What have we found so far?

In the spring of 2011, while cleaning out some old files on the family computer, I came across the family tree that I had created years ago. Realizing that software does not last forever, I picked up a copy of the latest version of the software. Gone were the old CD’s, now replaced by an Internet search feature which included trial  access to a database of family trees, census records and other historical documents. Within a month I had found several hundred relatives to populate our tree, as well as several living relatives who were also researching the same families. However it was the discovery of the death certificates of our 2nd great grandmother Harriett Mellen and our 2nd great grandfather William Pole that led me to a number of previously unknown surnames, including Jones, Bradbeare, Hawley, and Mellen, as well as numerous new place names in both the US and Great Britain. In June of 2011 I travelled to Brantford, Ontario where I discovered the graveyard that contains the remains of the first of our Hawley ancestors to immigrate to Canada from New York in 1812. My sister Pat discovered a passenger list from 1860 that placed Silas Hayes on a ship that landed in New York. My cousin Mike and his wife Carolyn assisted by travelling to Oscoda, Michigan where they confirmed a critical link by finding the graves of John Mellen and Sarah Hawley. Cousins Jill and Marcia have also done some on the ground research in Lambton County on our Pole ancestors. Last but not least, John Bayly, our second cousin, once removed, was able to shed some valuable information from his years of research that supports our linkage to the Mellen, Hawley and Raymond families. As of last count, I have now identified about 9,000 relatives and have collected about 2,000 pages of notes on our ancestors.

Most of our ancestors have now been traced back to Great Britain, some as far back to the 16th century. Much work remains to done to confirm the lineage as much of the material was downloaded from various out of copyright history and genealogy books written in the nineteenth century. It probably is not of sufficient quality to survive vetting by serious genealogists should anyone wish to pursue an application to such organisations such as the Winthrop Society or the Sons/Daughters of the American Revolution, although I believe we are eligible for membership in all three, should we be able to collect the appropriate paper (primarily some birth and marriage records from nineteenth century Ontario) to support an application. The trail weakens considerably in Great Britain where, unlike the USA and Canada, much of the census information is still held at the parish level and has not been transcribed to a search able database. But at least we know where to start in the event we want to pursue this further in Great Britain.

I have tried to retain most of the writing intact to reflect the era in which it was written, however I have attempted to remove duplicate information and correct the obvious scanning errors to make our story somewhat more readable, particularly for those of you that lack my enthusiasm for historical trivia. I have written the narratives specifically from the perspective of the first post World War II descendants of Ernie Hayes, namely Jill, Pat, Mike, Brian, Marcia and Lori. I have used myself as the “home person”when identifying relationships. Younger family members will need to adjust relationships by at least one generation, or contact me for access to our family tree which can be read using a number of free apps.

The blog is designed to be shared, critiqued, edited, and hopefully improved upon by any and all family members who share my interest in our family's history. I have tried to document the sources of information wherever possible, but I acknowledge that it is very possible that errors remain. It is also still a work in progress in that I continue to add names to the database.

What to Expect

Over the next few years I will tell you what I have found out about Ernie's stories, as passed down to him and onward to me in the summer of 1971, and whether they are historically accurate. I will also introduce you to a few of our more interesting relatives, as chosen by me. First a word of warning. Most of our ancestors appear to have been good people, but like most families, we have several "black sheep". I have no specific agenda in the selection of who is profiled, other than to share and preserve what I have discovered about our ancestors.

Interesting Links

Monday, 11 November 2013

Remembering Our Old Soldiers

Attending the 2013 Remembrance Day Ceremony this morning in West Vancouver, I was surprised by the large crowd of families who gathered to honor our veterans, but was also saddened by the dwindling number of aging veterans who marched to the cenotaph. I suppose it is inevitable as WWII ended over 68 years ago, which means the youngest veteran is now over 85 years old. Hopefully someone will take the time to record their stories for future generations. I know I regret not having taken more detailed notes of my father's experiences. 

On the way back to my office, I vowed to record the stories, as I know them of my father, my grandfather, and various great grandfathers experience's in the various wars they participated in since their arrival in North America and post them on my blog. First up is my fourth great grandfather, Thomas Mellen of Newbury, Vermont. He goes first for no other reason than his story is the most advanced of the various "works in progress" in my library.

Brian Hayes

Narrative of Thomas Mellen at the Battle of Bennington

 Thomas Mellen was a private whose description of the Battle of Bennington appeared in the book "The History of Newbury, Vermont," published in 1902.  Thomas was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, but had moved with his family to Newbury soon after the war.  During the war he served in the Lexington Alarm, the Battle of Bunker Hill ("being stationed at a very dangerous part of the rail fence"), the Battle of Bennington, and other campaigns.

At age 92, Thomas was interviewed by a pastor who was preparing to give a speech for a special ceremony -- a cannon captured at the Battle of Bennington was to be placed in Vermont's General Assembly building.  At the time Thomas told the story, he was living in a one-room building behind his son's house on the farm, where he spent most of his time working and reading.  The pastor described it as "the plain tale of a soldier" and said, "When I visited him, though upward of 92 years of age, he was so far from being bald or bowed that you would think him in the Indian summer of life."

 Thomas was also described as "a hard working man, in person he was below the medium height, very erect and active, and when past 80, still sang well, with a fine tenor voice.  When he was 81, he made a sleigh with his own hands, in which, the next winter, he traveled to the battlefield of Bunker Hill and the unfinished monument."

Private Thomas Mellen died January 21, 1853 in his 97th year, and was buried at the Ox-bow Cemetery, in Newbury, Vermont. At the time of his death there were very few, if any Revolutionary soldiers still alive. Many residents of Vermont would remember him as the only Revolutionary soldier they ever saw.

 Excerpts from the narrative of Thomas Mellen regarding the Battle of Bennington:

 "I enlisted at Francestown, N.H., as soon as I learned that [General John] Stark would accept the command of the State troops; six or seven others from the same town joined the army at the same time.  I received a horn of powder and run two or three hundred bullets; I had brought my own gun.  Then my company went on to Manchester; soon after, I went, with a hundred others, down the valley of Otter Creek; on this excursion we lived like lords, on pigs and chickens, in the houses of the Tories who had fled.  When we returned to Manchester, bringing two hogsheads of West India rum, we heard that the Hessians were on their way to invade Vermont.  Late in the afternoon of rainy Friday, we were ordered off for Bennington in spite of rain, mud and darkness.

 "Between two and three o'clock the battle began.  The Germans fired by platoons, and we were soon hidden by the smoke.  Our men fired each on his own hook, aiming wherever he saw a flash; few on our side had either bayonets or cartridges.  At last I stole away from my post and ran down to the battle.  The first time I fired I put three balls in my gun; before I had time to fire many rounds our men rushed over the breast-works, but I and many others chased straggling Hessians in the woods; we pursued until we met [Lt. Col. Henrich von] Breyman with 800 fresh troops and larger cannon, which opened a fire of grape shot; some of the grape shot riddled a Virginia fence near me; one shot struck a small white oak behind which I stood; though it hit higher than my head I fled from the tree, thinking it might be aimed at me again.  We skirmishers ran back till we met a large body of Stark's men and then faced about.

 "I soon started for a brook I saw a few rods behind, for I had drank nothing all day, and should have died of thirst if I had not chewed a bullet all the time.  I had not gone a rod when I was stopped by an officer, sword in hand, ready to cut me down as a runaway, who, on my complaining of thirst, handed me his canteen, which was full of rum; I drank and forgot my thirst.  But the enemy outflanked us, and I said to a comrade, 'we must run or they will have us.'  In a few minutes we saw [Seth] Warner's men [a small Vermont militia] hurrying to help us; they opened right and left of us, and one-half of them attacked each flank of the enemy, and beat back those who were just closing round us.  Stark's men now took heart and stood their ground.  My gun barrel was at this time too hot to hold so I seized a musket of a dead Hessian, in which my bullets went down easier than my own.  Right in front were the cannon, and seeing an officer [Colonel Philip Skene] on horseback waving his sword to the artillery, I fired at him twice; his horse fell; he cut the traces of an artillery horse, mounted him and rode off.  Soon the Germans ran, and we followed; many of them threw down their guns on the ground, or offered them to us, or kneeled, some in puddles of water.  The enemy beat a parley, minded to give up, but our men did not understand it.  I came to one wounded man flat on the ground, crying water or quarter.  I snatched the sword out of the scabbard, and while I ran on and fired, carried it in my mouth, thinking I might need it.  The Germans fled by the road and in a wood each side of it; many of their scabbards caught in the brush and held the fugitives till we seized them.  We chased them till dark.  We might have mastered them all, as they stopped within three miles of the battlefields; but Stark, saying he would run no risk of spoiling a good day's work, ordered a halt and return to quarters.
 "My company lay down and slept in a corn field, near where we had fought -- each man having a hill of corn for a pillow.  When I waked the next morning, I was so beaten out that I could not get up till I had rolled about a good while.

 "After breakfast I went to see them bury the dead.  I saw thirteen Tories, mostly shot through the head, buried in one hole.  Not more than a rod from where I fought, we found Capt. McClary, dead and stripped naked.  We scraped a hole with sticks, and just covered him with earth.  We saw many of the wounded who had lain out all night.  Afterward we went to Bennington, and saw the prisoners paraded.  They were drawn up in one long line; the British foremost, then the Waldeckers, next the Indians, and hindmost the Tories."1


1 Waldeckers were the 3rd Waldeck Regiment, which consisted of soldiers from Waldeck (or later Waldeck  and Pyrmont), a sovereign principality in the Holy Roman Empire. These soldiers, more commonly known as Hessians, fought under the British flag.  Most were conscripted, with their pay going to the Landgrave of Waldeck.


A speech delivered before the Legislature of Vermont, in Montpelier, Vermont on October 20, 1948 by James Davie Butler.
Published by Order of the Legislature. Burlington. Free Press Office Print. 1849. 

The History of Newbury, Vermont, From the Discovery of the Coos Country to Present Time 
With Genealogical Records of Many Families. In behalf of the Town
By Frederic P. Wells, 
St. Johnsbury, Vt., The Caledonian Company, 1902.

A History of the Battle of Bennington, Vermont
2nd edition
Frank Warren Colburn
1912, The Livingston Press in Bennington Vermont
p. 44

 An error free scan of Thomas Mellen was obtained thanks to a transcription on the website of the Twin Falls Chapter, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

Monday, 20 May 2013

This blog is designed to allow my extended family an opportunity to learn more about our ancestors and their place in history. Like many of my generation, I have recently taken up the hobby of researching our previously unknown relatives and their stories. I am guilty of of ignoring our family's history until after the deaths of both my wife's and my parents, making the task of recording our story that much more difficult. That said, there are tremendous sources of genealogical information available to us if we take the time to look and use the numerous tools that are currently available.

About the Title

Stella Quarta Decima is Latin for The Fourteenth Star. Fourteen is a recurring number in my research to date. Fourteen is the approximate number of generations that my research covers to date. My great grandmother Sarah was one of fourteen children, the last of the large families in my tree. The longest period of time I worked for one employer was fourteen years. My wife's birthday is the fourteenth of the month. 

As for the star, only a small number of the 7,475 individuals in my tree are well known, but they are all stars to me.  We don't get to chose our relatives, so celebrating their achievements unconditionally seems to me the least we can do.

Lastly, Stella Quarta Decima was the motto of the Republic of Vermont during its short history as an independent nation from 1777 until 1791. During this period, Vermont, prevented from becoming the fourteenth State of the Union by a long standing territorial dispute with New York, apparently toyed with the idea of forming a union with Canada. As we will find out, some of our relatives were equally confused as to which nation they wanted to belong too.

What to Expect

The blog will profile the stories  a number of our more interesting relatives, including both our direct ancestors as well as selected aunts, uncles and cousins. The material posted will consist primarily the research notes and the first draft of my book, tentatively titled Tinker, Nailer, Soldier, Sailer. As I anticipate travelling to Ontario and New England to confirm my initial research, I also plan to post photographs, stories and other research relating to Tinker, Nailer, Soldier, Sailer.