Making A Connection

Sometimes, social media has worked in my favour.

I’ve used it for work and for making plans.

I’ve used it to sell a pair of side tables — and a cake.

But when it comes to genealogy, it’s been hit or miss.

After finding the obituary for Ellen’s former guardian in Montreal, I decided give social media another try, by taking my discovery to one of the parish genealogy groups I frequent on Facebook.

I’ve tried this before, with photos or queries about direct ancestors. People have generally responded positively, but rarely with “I know this person”, or “This person is my [insert relative here]”. But since it wasn’t a direct relation, maybe it would work this time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

On September 12th, I posted the obituary for Alberta Alexandrina Gilpin, along with a call-out to identify any of the names of Alberta’s nieces listed, if they were related.

One of the group’s members responded 90 minutes later.

That’s never happened to me.

While exchanging comments with him, a second member responded. Turns out Alberta was his great-great aunt. He’d been filling in his family tree, and I’d just helped give him more information.

(Side benefit of doing your own family research – helping unlock a door for someone else in the process!)

But back to the first member: he was from Brooklyn, but was out of town and was willing to help me out when he returned. He said he was visiting Toronto … where I live.

I told him this, and he suggested we talk by phone.

So the next evening, we had a phone conversation where I read him each of the nieces’ names … and he identified almost every single one of them.

He told me one of the nieces has a daughter who still lives in Montreal, who he promised to reach out to when he returned home …

And one of the other nieces in the obit is still alive, and living in Toronto.

Following our call, he called the living niece in Toronto. According to him, she apparently knew of Ellen, but couldn’t recall the full details. She had some information written down somewhere, but would look for it.

Hopefully my new acquaintance will follow up with her and find out if she’s been successful finding that information.

In the meantime, I’m trying really hard not to get excited, because the information could be related to someone else with the same first name*. It may not even be information about Ellen.

But deep in the pit of my stomach, the thought there might finally be a little more information about my great-aunt, has ignited a tiny ember of hope.

 

 

*When the group member initially responded to my message, he thought Ellen was related to his family, because he had a family member also named Ellen. I had to correct him and clarify what I thought my great-aunt’s connection might be to Alberta.

 

The “Guardian”, Identified

After my tiny success finding some record of Ellen in the Jamaica Gleaner, I thought, what next? What else can I check?

I returned (yet again) to the 1930s immigration cards tracking Ellen over the border —  particularly the ones where Helen was temporary barred from re-entering Canada.

If you haven’t read that post – or need a refresher – click here first (and scroll a third of the way down the post, if you don’t have time to read it all).

A couple of the cards described how Ellen “had a fuss” with her former guardian – a Mrs. John Gilpin.

So I turned my attention to Mrs. Gilpin. Who was she?

Two weeks ago – while J was out of town – I was surfing the Web and came across a newspaper archive site with ties to Ancestry. Among the newspapers with accessible archives listed was the Montreal Gazette. You needed a membership to do any searches and access any of the results …

But the site was offering a one-week trial to use the site for free. I thought, eh, why not?

I started plugging in different search terms for Ellen. When that didn’t work, I tried the Gilpins. One listing named a Mrs. John Gilpin in a blurb about a community church event. It could have been her. But then again, it could have been anyone.

I tried a couple of other combinations. Nothing.

Then I remembered the address directories I’d been using a couple of weeks prior (they’re called Lovell’s directories). And a very long time ago, I’d used the directories to look up the Gilpins’ address. So I found their address and typed that, along with John Gilpin’s name, into the newspaper archive search engine.

An obituary appeared in the search results, for December 22, 1947. It was for a John Martyn Gilpin, who’d had passed away on December 17th.

It also finally gave me his wife’s name: Alberta Alexandrina Gilpin (maiden name Johnson).

I decided to roll the dice again, plugging Alberta’s name into the search engine.

In a matter of seconds, I was staring at her obituary – dated September 7, 1962. She’d passed away two days prior. And not only was her beloved late husband listed, but a number of Alberta’s nieces. (It appeared that John and Alberta didn’t have any children of their own.)

Some – possibly all – of those nieces lived in New York. But a couple of names tweaked my brain. One had a last name similar to a member of one of the Facebook genealogy groups I frequent. The other just seemed like the type of name someone from the islands might have. A church elder. A family friend. Someone’s auntie.

Nah, couldn’t be, I thought.

When J returned, I shared my findings with her, and sent her the obits. It took her no time to find a birth certificate for an Alberta Alexandrina Johnson, daughter of John Deleon Johnson and Ann Johnson (née Bean), born in 1880. Alberta was born in a community in Hanover – the same parish as the Campbells on my mom’s side.

Up until now, it never really occurred to me that the Gilpins might have been black. But it seemed like they were Jamaican. So the relationship between Ellen and her guardian couple (whatever it actually was) started to make more sense.

Then J found John and Alberta’s marriage record.

They were married in Montreal January 20, 1925. She also found another record for a woman with the same name, married in the 1940s in Jamaica, which momentarily threw J for a loop. But I looked at that record and could see the dates or ages didn’t line up.

Also, Alberta’s parents – John Deleon Johnson and Ann Bean – were named in the Montreal marriage record.

As far as I was concerned, we’d solved a part of the mystery around the guardian briefly mentioned on my great-aunt’s immigration card.

And this new bit of information gave me hope that I might have found a tiny crack in the  long-standing brick wall.

Re-Tracing My Steps

As a novice family researcher, two things seem to be true:

(1) There are times – when no progress is being made – that you have to get up and walk away for a while, before trying again.

(2) Searching for clues can be like gazing at a painting. Even though you’re drawn to the subject, it might help to look at what else is happening in the painting. (I think I’ve heard this on a TV show or two, but I couldn’t tell you which one.)

Since hitting a brick wall with Ellen almost 4 years ago, I hadn’t uncovered anything new with her story. I’d wracked my brain, thinking of other approaches to researching around the wall.

But then, I had to get up and walk away. I wasn’t making much progress. And I had to remind myself I had my own life to live, too.

But during the time I wasn’t actively looking, that gnawing at my brain never completely went away.

In August, I was feeling a bit restless, so I started picking away again, the way one might at a scab. What other ways could I research information about Ellen, or the era she lived in?

So, I started again … at the beginning.

I looked at the 1929 ship manifest. Then the immigration cards from the 1930s. The last ship manifest for her return journey to Canada in 1938.

I visited the Library and Archives Canada (LAC) Web site, going over the list of resources I could access. The only thing I hadn’t tried was something called the National Registration File of 1940, which you read more about here. I read the explanation, the instructions on how to make a request, and the comments. A couple of things were unclear to me, so I posted a query to one of the parish genealogy pages I frequented on Facebook.

I got a response back from a fellow group member, J, who has kindly helped me on and off over the past several years. As it happened, J lived in Ottawa and worked about a 10-15 minute walk away from where LAC is physically located, so she offered to stop by the building.

J also tried the various genealogy sites we frequent, to see if she might have any luck. She found an obituary for a woman with a similar name who was buried in Montreal, and was going to check with the cemetery’s archivist … but both of us didn’t think it was her. (Note: I just checked previous entries and realized we came across the same record about four years ago.)

I pored over old address directories for Montreal and came across a Helen Campbell in the listings. I tracked her for about a 10-year period (to 1950), then nothing. Part of me thought it might be her, but wasn’t sure because of the neighbourhoods this person lived in at the time. I put it aside.

Back to those immigration cards, scanning every centimetre. What bus line she could have used, which border crossing she would have crossed into Canada … Nothing led anywhere concrete.

J scanned the immigration cards, asking me about the friends Ellen stayed with when visiting New York. I searched for those names on Ancestry. I think I may have found them, but even then, I wasn’t 100 percent sure I’d positively identified them.

A couple days later, J messaged to say she didn’t have much luck in terms of how to trace Ellen. Someone working at LAC tried doing a couple of online database searches, but to no avail.

A thought occurred to me about churches. (A friend suggested this to me a few years ago, but I hadn’t yet exhausted my other options.) I didn’t know if Ellen attended church back then, but it might be one way someone new and alone in a big city might have tried to make community connections. I shared my thought with J, who said she’d pose the question in other Facebook genealogy groups on my behalf.

We went back and forth like this for roughly a couple of weeks. In late August, J checked in to say she didn’t have any updates, as she had been busy with work. She was also going out of town for about a week, but would resume helping me upon her return.

On my own for the time being, I revisited those immigration cards and those ship manifests over and over. (I’m surprised I didn’t bore a hole through my laptop monitor.)

I decided to take another look at newspaper archives to see if I’d find anything new.

First, I searched the online archives for the Jamaica Gleaner, which dates back to 1834. I’d struck gold once before, with the death of my dad’s biological father. Perhaps after some time away, I might find more.

The Gleaner, near its back pages, used to print shipping notices – ships coming and going, but also people arriving or leaving Jamaica. I’d tried searching for Ellen this way once before, but wasn’t successful.

But on this day, I looked at the dates of the 1929 ship manifest, along with some of the other passengers leaving on the same voyage as Ellen – including a number of young women also from Hanover parish. I plugged dates around the time of departure into the search engine.

Bingo. I found a small notice in the paper, listing Ellen and the other young ladies departing.

I tried it again for Ellen’s departure in June, 1938 – then, she went by Helen.

I found that notice, and the notice for when she first returned to Jamaica in February, 1938. (I tried to find a ship manifest for that time period, but no dice.)

Not all the information was new. But it lit a tiny fire within.

Could I get the same result through paper archives from Montreal?

 

One More Thing …

Hi, folks!

By the time you read this, I’ve safely arrived – and am probably waking up, blurry-eyed – at my vacation destination. But I couldn’t leave you completely high and dry.

Some of you know this, but for those who don’t, my friends Kath, Renée and I have a small, humble podcast we try to release monthly, called Sip & Bitch. We basically pair topics we like talking about, with the alcoholic beverage of our choice.

In our newest episode, we talk about romance novels, and why we read them (or don’t) … plus, Kath shares the story of what happened when her uncle read a romance novel he didn’t like.

If you have a chance, check us out! You can click on the SoundCloud link below, or you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, please leave us a review!

Talk to you in April!

Playing Catch-Up.

Hey, thanks for visiting!

It’s been a few months since I last posted . . . and then disappeared into the wind.

Here’s the reason.

Way back in March, I briefly – and cryptically – mentioned a project I joined. I can now say that it’s with a small independent game company that creates video games. They already have one game – a dating sim set in a middle school – which has been well-received.  Now, they’re working on their next two mobile games, one of which is a second dating sim.

I’m freelancing as their newest writer on the dating sim. And by “newest”, I mean I’ve never written for a video game before. In fact, I’ve never worked in a capacity where I’ve really gotten to flex my creative writing muscle before. It’s been a challenging, anxiety-inducing learning curve. But – in fits and starts – it’s been fun to see this plot and its characters unfold before my eyes.

It’s also been very time-consuming (obviously – it’s a job). When I wasn’t at my full-time job four days a week, I was writing on my days off and after work (or at least trying) to try to make my writing deadlines. And admittedly, I haven’t been as fast a writer as I’d like.

As a result, it’s been an extremely quiet summer for me. No trips. Not a lot of vacation time – just time off for special occasions and as I needed it. Not a lot of time to myself. And until recently, not a lot of socializing with friends, or even my mom. (Between Easter and the end of July, I’ve seen her maybe three times, which for me is unusual.)

That’s currently come to a halt.

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, I’m on a writing hiatus until October. Maybe longer – it all depends. But it’s just a weird feeling when something both so intense suddenly hits the brakes. I hope it does resume. Someone picked me – a complete beginner – out of a crowd and is taking a chance on me. It’s a really creative group of people, and I would like to finish what I’ve started. (If you’re a completist like me, you understand.)

In the meantime, I’m okay with this. Even though I was actually writing, I didn’t have any sort of work-life balance while I was doing it. So I’m looking at this hiatus as a chance to play catch-up with other parts of my life. Maybe re-configure how I manage my time so I’ll be ready if/when things resume.

And I hope it will not only be good for my mental health, but that it’ll actually jump-start my creative juices – which would be a great side-benefit.

I’m going to attempt to not stop writing completely. Which is what this space is for, right? To keep that muscle working, even if it’s at a lower resistance.

So it’s probably a good a time as any to finally get around to some travel writing that’s been on the back-burner for the last couple of years. No, you read that correctly. I don’t know how good they’ll be, since time can soften and fade experiences and memories. But thank goodness for travel diaries! At least those will keep me somewhat accountable.

So check back here throughout the month of August. You may actually get some online reading material for late summer.

Bye for now!

 

 

 

 

 

Safe Space Check-in & Life with Plants (So Far)

In January, I mentioned wanting to make an effort with my living space which, if you recall, looked like this:

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I’ve been making slow steps here and there (and hitting you over the head with it), and as of several days ago, looked more like this:

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So, marginally neater. Most surfaces are still covered with paper clutter (my specialty), but I’m not stressed. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, right?

In clearing and tidying one space at a time, I’m reminded of another (tiny) issue: it looks a bit devoid of personality. Of course, it’s evident someone lives here. But who?

To perk up my apartment, I’m finally starting to invest in some indoor plants.

Apparently I’m not alone in this. The New York Times recently published this article about how millennials are filling their homes and workspaces with plants.

Until recently, I’ve only really owned a leggy dracaena plant (in the top photo) that I bought my second year of university. (I briefly had a baby aloe plant, but the lack of all-day sunlight – and no window sills – resulted in its unfortunate demise.)

The plant used to reside at my mom’s house. She had the space, the right type of light, and she’s got a super-green thumb. Then I moved, and she told me it was time to claim my friend.

Travel’s been the main reason for not having more plants. I didn’t want to wander off somewhere for two or three weeks and leave them to die from a basic lack of attention.

But since I can’t afford to go very far and my leafy companion looks bit lonely, I figured I’d try again.

I’d fully intended to start slowly – doing lots of research to make sure I got plants that were hardy, relatively low-maintenance, etc.

But one evening, my friend Renee offered me one of her spider plant babies — already a solid size with decent roots — and I happily accepted.

After I’d gotten it home and placed it in a jar of water, I briefly panicked. I had soil, but no small planters with drainage.

Enter YouTube. This enterprising green-thumbed spider plant owner was super-helpful and informative, and by the next night, voilà:

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I call my plant Val (for the cheesy Valentine Day-themed tumbler I bought from Dollarama to keep her in).

She seems to be doing well – she’s sprouted two leaves. So far, I’m doing something right.

Of course, this has now sparked a bit of an obsession.

Three weeks after bringing home my spider plant, I went browsing with a friend at Home Depot to get some ideas for other types of plants …

And against my better judgement, walked out with a lemon button fern.imag1601824270745.jpg

Now, some people say ferns are easy to care for; others say they’re among the fussiest houseplants around.

I’m doing my homework and trying my best, but let me put it this way: I don’t think I’m winning the fight to keep my fronded friend – dubbed “Vern the Fern” – alive. Vern currently doesn’t resemble the photo you see here.

Amid all of this, I’d been on the lookout for a plant that I thought was cute, but turns out to be one of the plants to own, according to Instagram and plant lovers: the pilea peperomioides, a.k.a. the Chinese money plant, missionary plant, pancake plant, etc.

When I started researching pileas, online information suggested that one’s best bet was to get a baby plant from another pilea owner, as trying to buy one can apparently cost you $30.

Thirty. Dollars. It’s like the Cabbage Patch Kid of plants.

However, one of the Facebook groups I’d joined had been (and still is) on pilea watch. The first time someone posted a sighting of baby pileas at Canadian Tire – for a fraction of the standard price – word got out and they were gone in almost no time.

The second time there was a sighting, I marched myself to the store the following afternoon and got one of the last three plants.

imag1611-1978273529.jpgFor now, I’m the proud owner of a baby pilea. About two weeks after bringing it home, bugs started emerging, so – thanks to some Facebook advice – I dumped out the soil, washed the plant and roots as well as I could, and re-potted it.

This is what it currently looks like. I’m watching it closely to make sure (a) it’s bug-free and (b) it lives. Keep your fingers crossed.

I’m currently on a break from plant collecting to make sure I can handle caring for my leafy new charges.

It’ll be a while before I successfully create my own private Wakanda – and I’m not aiming to own hundreds of plants – but I think I’m on my way to making my abode a little more homey.

 

 

New Podcast Episode: Modest Dressing

Hey folks,

Hope you’re making the best of your Friday (or Saturday, depending where you are in the world)!

Earlier this week, my friends and I put out the newest episode of our podcast, Sip & Bitch.

This time, we decide to discuss whether or not there’s actually a trend in modest dressing happening right now, while sipping on some Kir Royales.

We all had our own thoughts; you can decide for yourself.

You can click on the link below, search for us on SoundCloud, or find us on iTunes.

We also have a Facebook page – please stop by (if you’re on Facebook), when you have a moment.

Enjoy!