Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Introducing Alma McConnell

All of my McConnell mysteries lead back to my great grandmother Alma, so I'll start by telling you a little about her.  First, she shows up in at least one census as Almedia, but her daughter, my grandmother, insisted that her name was really Alma.  Her family tree looks like this:

As you see, there are several question marks in this tree, but I'm confident that Alma's mother Martha Campbell first married Jeremiah McConnell, and when he died in 1861/2, she married his brother Alpheus, bringing along her two children, Ira and Hannah.  Alma was born in 1865 in Rawdon, Hastings, Ontario, and spent the first few years of her life there.  Her father Alpheus was a farmer, and the family lived near a couple of his brothers and their families, and no doubt their lives were pretty ordinary for the times, with lots of hard work, church going and involvement in the wider community.

In 1873, when Alma was about 8 years old, her brother Wilbert was born, and sadly, this event brought about the death of their mother Martha.  What happened immediately after that I don't know, but it wasn't long until everything went pear-shaped.

In 1874, Alpheus married Margaret Connelly, and then she was never seen again - in the family history sense.  In 1878, some of the family (I don't know which members of it) moved to Michigan. Alpheus  shows up there in the 1880 US census, a widower with just two of his five children - Maria, age 13, and Wilson age 10. By that time his eldest daughter Mary, and his two step-children had married - but where were Alma, age 15 and Wilbert, age 7? And what happened to Margaret?  She had apparently died, but I can't find any record of that.  Perhaps, after creating havoc in Alpheus' family, she ran off with someone else - but I'm only saying that because I don't like her.

Alma McConnell at about age 16
Alma and Wilbert both show up the following year in the Canada census, in different places.  Alma, age 16, was living in Peterborough, about 30 miles from home, with someone called Porter Preston, his sister Mary and his wife Mary Eliza Young.  Who were these people?  That's one of my mysteries.  And young Wilbert had been farmed out to live with his Uncle Sylvanus McConnell and family in Rawdon.  Why?  The story goes that when Margaret Connelly married Alpheus, Wilbert was less than a year old, and Margaret didn't want to take on the responsibilities of looking after a baby.  Perhaps she wouldn't marry Alpheus unless Wilbert was out of the picture.  But what about Alma?  She would have been nine years old at that time - why did she have to go too?  Then again, maybe Margaret insisted on Alpheus getting rid of ALL of his children, and it was only after she died that two of them went to live with their father again.  Just guessing there.

By the way, that 1880 US census is the last sighting of Alpheus.  He probably died in Michigan, but I can't find any record of his death or burial, anywhere.

But getting back to Alma... as far as we know, Alma had no contact with any of her dispersed family while she was living with the Prestons.  But she did get to know the Wanamakers, who lived nearby, and a few years later, when she was 22, she married William Henry Wanamaker.  They soon moved to Kenlis, Saskatchewan and started having children.

Not long after that, in 1890 or 91, Alma was reunited with her youngest brother Wilbert.  He was then 17 or 18 years old, and apparently not very happy with the situation he was in.  So he found out where Alma was and went to Saskatchewan to be with her. Sadly for Wilbert, Alma wasn't entirely pleased to see him.  By that time she had a couple of young children to look after, and I guess the last thing she needed was a dependent teenage brother who she didn't know.  And I suspect that her husband, the fiery-tempered William, didn't want him around either.  So Wilbert went to work on a neighbour's farm, and in later years, he was heard to say that he wished he had stayed in Ontario.

It wasn't until Alma was in her fifties that she reconnected with her sister Mary, who was living in California.  The story goes that Alma had put an ad in some newspapers, seeking information about her missing siblings.  Someone saw it and told Mary, who got in touch with Alma.  In 1920, the sisters were reunited when William, Alma and their two youngest daughters went to California, and they kept in touch from that time on.  Whether or not Alma found any of her other siblings or half-siblings, I don't know.

I'll have more to say about Alma and William and their family, which included my grandmother Myrtle Wanamaker, in future posts, but I'll leave them there for now.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Some McConnell Mysteries

In case you think I've fallen asleep at the wheel, I thought I should check in to say that I'm still climbing around in my mother's family tree, but I've got snagged on several tricky branches and have made very little progress.  And as I've said before, I'm easily distracted, so a lot of other things have been grabbing my attention too.

But recently I've been giving a lot of thought to the McConnells in the tree, particularly some of the McConnell women, and I realized that there are quite a few little mysteries lurking amongst them. For instance:

  • Who was Martha Campbell, my 2nd great grandmother?  Or was her name really Margaret?  I haven't been able to find out a single thing about her background, not even the name of her father.  All I know is that she married two McConnell brothers, had some children, and died young.
  • Who did my 3rd great grandfather Jonathan 'Jock' McConnell marry?  I think I know her name, but have no actual evidence.  I think I know who her parents were too, but I could be totally wrong.  And does this woman, whoever she was, hold the key to the family legend of a connection to the Mayflower?
  • On that topic, did Experience Howland, a Mayflower descendant, really marry James Bearce, or was she in fact a man?  (Are you intrigued...?)
  • What was my great grandmother Alma McConnell's stepmother's problem?  It seems that she was the reason for the family being split up and sent off in three different directions.  I don't think I like her at all.
  • At that time, when Alma was about 8 years old, why was she sent to live with a family who apparently weren't related to her in any way?  Or were they?
  • And what happened to Alma's wicked stepmother?  After throwing the family into disarray, she seemed to disappear without a trace.

These are some of the questions that are preying on my mind.  I've enlisted some professional help in answering one of them, but I don't expect results any time soon.  Meanwhile, I'm plugging away at the others, in fits and starts, with some valuable input from my second cousin once removed, Ruth, who has been vexed by similar questions for years.  We both hope that together we'll eventually get to the bottom of at least some of these puzzles.

As I continue along these lines of inquiry, I intend to write blog posts which will fill you in on the background of each one, keep you informed about any progress I make, and at the same time, paint some kind of a picture of the McConnell family.  They're my second most problematic family - the first is the family that Alma McConnell married into, the Wanamakers - a huge swirling mass of confusion that I hope to understand some day.  Meanwhile, I'll stick with the McConnells.  Stay tuned.