My great-grandfather, Edward McCallum, was born in McKillop Township in Ontario (now part of the Municipality of Huron East) in 1886. His father’s family, not surprisingly given their name, were originally from Scotland (and are how we are linked to Ronald Reagan – but that, as they say, is another story) and made their way to McKillop by way of Quebec. Edward’s mother, Martha Hart was also born in McKillop Township to an Irish mother and English father.
After a few false starts, I was able to trace my great-grandfather’s ancestors back to their original countries – Argyll in Scotland, Suffolk in England, and Co. Roscommon in Ireland. And although that should probably have been the most difficult part of the search, it was actually his mother’s siblings that gave me the hardest time. Who were Edward McCallum’s maternal aunts and uncles? And what happened to them?
Edward McCallum’s mother, Martha Hart was the eldest of five children, born in 1861 to Edward Hart and Mary Ann Henderson. After Martha there was William, Mary Ann, James, and Margaret. Unfortunately, Hart turned out to be a pretty common name in the McKillop area – just one of the complicating factors when tracing this family.
Eventually however, I was able to find bits and pieces of information to start to put their story together. An interesting tidbit I uncovered about Martha’s brother William and their mother Mary Ann comes from the 1901 census. By this time, Mary Ann was a widow (and in fact had been for 25 years; Edward Hart died in 1876). William, unmarried at age 32 lived with her. Usually in this situation, the son would be listed as the head of the household, and the mother recognized as “mother” in the “relation to the head” column. Whether it was the enumerator or Mary Ann herself who insisted on this, but in their case Mary Ann is the head, and her son William is her “partner”. Well played great-great-great grandma! A strong Irish woman indeed. William married Charlotte Robinson at the age of 43 and they had one child, a son, William James Edward Hart born in 1910. William died of a stroke in 1918 at the age of 54. He is buried with his wife Charlotte in Maitlandbank Cemetery in Seaforth – where most of the Henderson/Hart family can be found.
Martha’s next sibling, her sister Mary Ann, took some digging as well. But I eventually found that she married John Arthus Hinchley in 1889 when she was 22 years of age. I eventually uncovered a professional portrait of Mary Ann and John in a treasure trove of family photos. He looked very distinguished (to suit his name) and there is no other word for her expression than fierce. Perhaps she took after her mother? They had no children and I suspect she may have been the eccentric aunt of the family (her outfits in some family photos are evidence of that!). She died in 1931 at the age of 64 and is buried with her husband John in Maitlandbank Cemetery.
Next in the family came Martha’s brother, James born in 1871. Unlike his siblings, James ventured a little further from home, eventually marrying Emily Fielding “up north” in Muskoka District in 1893 at the age of 22. (I often wonder if stories of his time in Muskoka influenced his nephew – my great-grandfather, Edward McCallum – who also made his way to Muskoka to work in logging, where he met and married my great-grandmother Maud Cook!). But James and Emily eventually made their way back to McKillop where their two sons were born, William in 1898 and James in 1900. Life had been good for James until the 1910s came along. Early in that decade his mother died. Then later in that same decade within about a year of each other his wife Emily and brother William died. After his wife’s death in 1917 it appears that James and his sons headed back to the north, this time to Parry Sound where he became the owner of a sawmill. James died there in 1920 from cancer of the bladder at the age of 49 but is buried with his wife Emily in Maitlandback Cemetery in Seaforth.
And now we’re at the youngest of Martha Hart’s siblings, Margaret Hart, my great-grandfather’s Aunt Maggie. I knew she existed from the census records of the family, but after the 1891 census when she was 16 years of age she just disappeared. I couldn’t find a marriage record, a death record, a birth record for any children…she was lost to me. Then one day when digging through very old family photo albums, I came across a postcard. On the front was a lovely farmhouse with what looked to be a family with two young girls standing in front. I was quite taken with the house so flipped the card over to find out more. My eyes immediately landed on the signature: “Your Aunt Maggie”. And I knew. This was it. This was my key to finding her. The postcard was written to my great-grandfather, Edward McCallum while he was working in Muskoka. It read:
I hope you are well as this leaves us at present. We were back to Ethel last Sunday [where Edward’s mother and siblings lived]. All well except Marjory [Edward’s sister]. She is not very well. Be sure to come and see us when you come home at Xmas.
This is a photo of our home.
Your Aunt Maggie.
The card was postmarked: Seaforth, November 28, 1907.
I was once again determined to find out more about Aunt Maggie. From the card I knew that she had married and that she had at least two children, both girls. I scoured marriage records because I knew I needed her married name but still came up empty handed. Finally, I decided the house in the picture was my only hope. And I needed a little help…from my Facebook friends.
On Facebook, there is a group called “Ontario Genealogy”. In the group, people post questions, or share resources that might be helpful to others, and ask for help when they’ve hit that proverbial brick wall. On March 30th of this year I posted the following along with a picture of the front of the postcard:
Seaforth, Ontario area, c 1900. Does anyone recognize this house, likely in the Seaforth area? I'm pretty sure it belonged to a great-great-great aunt of mine. Her maiden name would've been Margaret (Maggie) Hart born c 1875. Her sister, Martha Hart (1861-1943) was my great-great grandmother. This picture is from a postcard she wrote to my great-grandfather - Edward McCallum. To find more information about her, I need her married name, but she only signed it "Aunt Maggie". I've searched for marriage records, but have come up empty-handed. I thought if maybe I could find the house, I could find who owned it and come up with her married name. Thanks in advance for your help!
I didn’t know if I’d have any luck but thought it was worthwhile trying.
Clearly, I underestimated the power of Facebook and those obsessed with family history.
And this, in fact, is my post from just 24 hours later:
Okay - just to sum it all up: In 24 hours [and 24 comments from those who helped] I have found out not only where the house is, but who Margaret (Aunt Maggie) married (George Harn) and on what date. Not to mention the names of her children, her and her husband's death date, place of burial, and a picture of their headstone. And I have a number of newspaper articles that mention them as well.
That’s right. The whole time I was searching for Margaret Hart’s married name, it was only one letter different; Margaret Hart, when she married, became Margaret Harn. Not to mention, that despite being lost to me, she had spent her whole life in the same area as the rest of her family!
AND, I had made a dead-wrong assumption when searching for information on her. I assumed I couldn’t find her headstone and burial information using her maiden name, so didn’t look. But good old Aunt Maggie – channeling the feisty spirit of her Irish mother – has her maiden name on her headstone. I could have found her without the postcard!
But I would have missed out on a fantastic experience using Facebook to find ancestors.
To finish Aunt Maggie’s story, she married George Harn in 1891 when she was only 16 years old. She had two daughters, Lorna Mae in 1895 and Ethel Irene in 1898. Their farm, featured on the postcard to my great-grandfather, is two and half miles north of Seaforth. She died in 1951 at the age 76 and is buried with her husband George (who predeceased her by 25 years) in Maitlandbank Cemetery in Seaforth. She is pictured below with her husband and two daughters (a picture I've since found).
The mystery of missing Aunt Maggie is solved. Now…who’s next? :)