Friday, December 30, 2011

A Secret

It's taken me while to come back to this blog, not because of a lack of things to write about, but rather that there are so many I'm not sure where to begin. And because I am a tad ADD, I tend to deal with genealogy as I deal with everything else- sporadically and prone to jumping around a lot.  I fear that there will be no cohesiveness to these stories if I just post them at random, so in the interest of continuity I decided I should start at the end of the line so to speak and work my way back. And to clarify things even further I'm trying to come up with some kind of label to indicate which side of the family the key characters belong to, paternal (Kilner/Lawrance) or maternal (Hébert/Anderson).

I've been hesitant to tell my my maternal grandmother's story for several reasons. She kept her secrets well and though in my eyes she lived an exemplary life, she obviously wasn't comfortable with certain details of it being known.  Some parts of her life were only revealed after she died and things like exact dates and places remain a mystery. I've been questioning various family members but most know only some of the details which is why it's been difficult to pin down.

   I believe it's time to tell her story: today is the twelfth anniversary of her death and I hope she will forgive me for breaking her silence. The discoveries we made after her death revealed a side of her that I believe actually show her in a positive light but times are different today than when she made her decisions and some things that are accepted and even commonplace today weren't always so.

 Grandma was born Muriel Ruth Anderson on July 31 1918 in Brownsburg, Quebec. She was the second child and only daughter of Thomas Anderson and Jessie McCluskey (youngest child of John and Lizzie). The Andersons, like their families and neighbours were staunch Protestants and tea-totallers to boot. My grandma always claimed that never a drop of liquor had touched her lips, a stance my mother also maintains to this day. My grandpa Jean Claude Hébert on the other hand was from a large rollicking French Catholic family who never met a party they didn't like. In that time and place, the Anglos and the French were like oil and water; properly brought up girls from Brownsburg did not date French boys, let alone get pregnant and subsequently give birth to a child out of wedlock while that French boy was off  fighting in World War II. My aunt was born in Nov of 1940 but the shame of this must have been so great, it was never talked of as long as my grandma was alive. (So well kept was this secret that neither my aunt nor my mother knew anything about it until after my grandma's death in 1998.) Sometime in 1941 when my grandpa was home on leave, a quiet wedding was held, reportedly in the nave of the Catholic church, possibly in either Brownsburg or Lachute.  The date is uncertain as well but one thing is known for sure - my great grandmother Jessie did not attend the wedding. Sadly the marriage didn't seem to improve relations with my grandma and her family, at least not right away. My mother was born in May of 1942 and apparently my great-grandmother was furious; my grandpa was again overseas with the war and didn't return for several years. During that time my grandma and her daughters lived with Ruth's parents but things remained strained. When Claude returned from the war Ruth and my mother moved to a tiny flat in downtown Montreal, far from both sides of the family so Claude could be close to work. Sadly he was home only briefly before being sent to the sanitorium to be treated for TB. Ruth took in boarders to help pay the rent. My aunt meanwhile was being raised by her grandparents back in Brownsburg. It can't have been an easy life and the lack of emotional support from her parents must have made it even more lonely for Ruth.  By the time the family was finally united, Claude was a stranger to both of his daughters and the adjustment must have been a difficult one. Ruth and Claude however were better suited to each other than anyone would have predicted; another child, my uncle, was born in 1952, and their marriage was a wonderful one, cut short only by Claude's death in 1971 at the age of 51. I was not yet 7 when he died so my memories of him are few but he had a love of life and a creative mind that was the perfect balance for my somewhat staid grandma. Ruth never remarried and kept the details of her marriage a secret, leaving a few scraps of paper to start me off on this search.

Finding their actual marriage has proved difficult without an exact date or location. (There's even another possible storyline that had them eloping to Ottawa!) And this the main reason for finally breaking the silence: there are only a few members of my family who are still alive that might still remember the details and I want to get the facts right before there's no one to help me find the truth.  I really believe the whole story deserves to told because even though my grandma went to her grave believing that her past was something to be ashamed of, in the end it was truly a love story with a happy ending and that's the best legacy I could ask for.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Journey

Long before they arrived in Canada, my Kilner ancestors lived England. My great grandfather William Kilner who was born in 1882 was the last generation of our line to be born on English soil. I can recall Bumpy, as we called him, only vaguely as a tall but frail man who died when I was just 3. My grandfather Frederick Stanley Kilner was born 1911 in Toronto but made several trips to back to meet his relations when he was younger; sadly the connections he made there died with him and we've lost contact with those branches of the family. My family was not much for telling stories or keeping records of the past and it's taken some time to track their origins. On one of the few family photos, William was given a birth year of 1880 which led me on bit of goosechase- it would have made him born out of wedlock and there was a point where I wondered if we were really Kilners at all! Thankfully I uncovered a birth record with his correct year of birth in Horton, Bradford, from the BMD registry. In my research I also discovered that the Kilners we are descended from were originally from Huddersfield and were part of the thriving woolen industry there for many generations. From the records I have been able to uncover it appears they were actually quite well off - not only did they own their own business and the dwellings they lived in but many apparently held land and multiple rental properties as well. Which makes me curious - why would my GG Grandfather chose to leave behind an apparently good life for a new country like Canada?

Further research revealed that Thomas Bamforth Kilner, my GG grandfather, was the youngest of six surviving siblings (two older brothers died young). Thomas B's father, also named Thomas (and who I refer to as Thomas Jr), died in 1856 when Thomas B was barely a year old. His mother Anne Richardson Bamforth and all six children were left well provided for in a will dated just prior to Thomas Jr's death at the age of 44. It's reasonable to assume he was ill for a while and prepared for this eventuality; in his will he stipulated that his investments were to be looked after by a trustee and the proceeds were to be used for the living of his wife and children, then divided among his children when they came of age. Interestingly, Thomas Jr predeceased his father (Thomas Kilner Sr) by two years and an examination of that will shows that Thomas B and his siblings were also entitled to their father's share of a rather large estate. It seems that Thomas B should have come to Canada a fairly well off man! And perhaps he did; The Canadian Passenger List has them as Mr T. B . Kilner, occ/calling gent and Mrs. Kilner, lady. No other profession listed, he appears to be a man of independant means although his lifestyle in Canada wasn't one of wealth.

Thomas B, and my GG grandmother Mary Elizabeth Thwaite arrived in Canada in July of 1884. It would have been a long journey by ship, 3-4 weeks, made even longer for Mary Elizabeth who was pregnant at the time. Hilda Kilner, William's sister, was born in Sept 1884 in Wellington, Canada and grew up basically as an only child. Oddly, or perhaps not given the circumstances, William didn't travel to Canada with his parents but was left behind with his maternal grandparents. Perhaps they intended to bring him once they were established or maybe they wanted him to receive a proper education back in England, but for whatever reason, William didn't come to Canada until he was 16 years old! Family memories hint that Mary Elizabeth was unhappy in Canada, and that she and Thomas Bamforth were often estranged- perhaps she just missed her son. Records show that she made several trips back to England with Hilda for long periods of time, and on one of those trips she brought William back with them. He settled here, married and built a life, apparently never looking back to the country of his birth.

Tomorrow I begin a journey of my own, to see the land where Thomas B, Mary Elizabeth and William Kilner began their journey. It's my first trip across the Atlantic, and as I think nervously of seven hour flight ahead of me, I remind myself of the 3 week journey my ancestors took so long ago.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Beginning...

Like many people, I have recently been caught up in the hunt for my past relations. My explorations in genealogy have taken me across the ocean and back several times over, although only virtually so far. Along the way I have made many fascinating (to me at least) discoveries and even solved a mystery or two. I've also hit many a brick wall in the form of relatives that seem to appear out of nowhere, as well as photos of people whom no one can identify. These are the common frustrations of an amateur genealogist. Online genealogy programs can only offer so much. They are wonderful for discovering facts and absolutely fantastic for connecting with people searching for similar information but they lack the ability to do the one thing that interests me most. They fail to tell the stories.

I began this blog as a place to fill in some of the details between the facts. Of course not everyone has a story that's noteworthy enough to write about and among those that do, much has been lost over time. Some of the people I hope to write about didn't leave enough behind to tell their own stories, so in some cases I may have to speculate the reasons why they ended up where they did, both geographically and philosophically. And in some cases I may just write about what I know and what I wish I did, in the hopes that someday someone else will be able to fill in the gaps.

With the exception of my French ancestors (who are a whole book unto themselves, with the pedigree to prove it), most of my relatives arrived in Canada sometime in the early part of 19th century. It was a turbulent time in the soon to be new country and things were changing rapidly, My great great grandfather John McCluskey, pictured in the header, appears on paper to lived in a number of different places but in reality he moved only once; it was the frequent renaming of the region he lived in that makes him look like a nomad! How and why he came to be there in the first place is the part that I find most fascinating and what I hope to be able to find out more about. His is just one of the many stories I hope to write about here.

These are not my stories, but they are the stories that made me who I am. I hope I do them justice.