I’ve just published a video outlining why I profile my ancestors. In brief, it says that genealogists who take time to write stories about their ancestors ask better questions, are able to frame their research in time and place, and communicate well.
This is the first video in a series. To get them in your inbox, sign up for my Notable Nonfiction list and select the Profile Your Ancestor group.
The final letter to Mr. Baldwin seems so impersonal, despite a handwritten signature.
The RCAF officer signed only his initials “AAG” on the January 4, 1947 letter to John Ansley Baldwin.
May I again, at this time, offer my sincere sympathy at the loss of your son.”
The initials seem to bely the sentiment expressed, but keep in mind that “AAG” had to write many such letters to parents. As casualty officer for Air Marshall Robert Leckie, Chief of the Air Staff from January 1944 until August 1947, AAG had to write to many parents of the 17,397 airmen who died serving with the Canadian Air Force during World War II.
In this instance, AAG was writing to the father of Flying Officer Air bomber John Moody Baldwin, the navigator on a flight flown by pilot William Coates. Baldwin went missing almost three years earlier—on March 25, 1944—when his plane went down during air operations in Germany with the RCAF. At that point, the 23-year-old had been an air bomber for two years.
This letter was the news firmly announcing his definite death to his family.
“The report from the Missing Research and Enquiry Service in Holland states that the aircraft in which they were flying crashed at about 12.30 A.M. on the 25gh March near Luyksgestel which is located approximately 12 miles South South West of Eindhoven.”
The letter, which was sent to 838 Concession Street, Hamilton, Ontario, goes on to say that the remains of the seven airmen were buried in the General Cemetery, Woensel, Eindhoven. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicates that they are now buried in Plot KK. Coll. grave 28-31.
The letter was addressed to John Moody Baldwin’s father. An accompanying death certificate issued by the Province of Ontario identifies his mother as Margaret Moody. Both were born in Ontario.
 Baldwin, John Moody; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 24791, letter J24527 (RO, No. 10. Section), dated Ottawa, Canada, January 4th 1947.
I began looking for traces of the Huguenots that my grandmother always told me were in the family. First, I looked for anyone born in Blois, Orléans, Paris, Rouen or Tours France sometime after the Affair of the Placards. These are the towns in which people posted signs questioning Catholic dogma overnight on October 17, 1534. The incident set off the reformation and eventually led to hangings and mass migration of Protestants out of France.
Unfortunately, my genealogical records don’t extend far into France during the 1500s, so that research will be for another day.
My journey through the Hurtubise side of my family, however, led me upon a wonderful history of Westmount called A View of Their Own: The Story of Westmount, written by Aline Gubbay in 1998. The little guide introduced me to several early maps of Montreal I hadn’t seen before, Montreal’s Mohawk name “”Kawanote Teiontiakon” and a hint about how some of my distant ancestors lived. Gubbay describes the geology of Montreal in a way that allows you to really imagine how things used to be.
The western part of the island was distinguished by a little mountain Westmount — some 600 feet high, formed by an outcropping of a larger rise, Mount Royal. Iroquoians had discovered that the slope of the little mountain, facing south-east, was sheltered from the strongest northern winds, a factor which, together with abundant water from the mountain springs, made for a richly fertile soil where they could cultivate their traditional crops of beans and corn. (p 11)
My ancestors get a small mention on page 15:
One by one the families arrived, settling along the Indian trail now given the name of Côte St. Antoine. They included names such as Des Carries (sic), Prud’homme, Leduc, Pierre et Jean Hurtubise, and St. Germain.
(Fascinating how Gubbay missed the French word “et” in her paragraph, something I frequently do in my texts. Bilingualism can be quite troubling sometimes.)
Most of the men were artisans, recruited from towns of northern France for their skills as stonemasons, millers, brewers, but they soon acquired the new skills necessary to clear and cultivate the land. In winter, after the land had been cleared, the trunks of the trees were gathered, carried down to the water and lashed together on the rim of a frozen lake, Lac St. Pierre. When the ice melted in the spring the lumber was floated through a short inlet to the St. Lawrence River and rafted along the shore for sale at Ville Marie, now renamed Montreal.
If you have Clarks, Dawsons, Dionnes, Elgins, Enslies, Hays, Hendersons, Lighthalls, Mackays, Monks, Murrays, Newnhams, Ohmans, Parés, Shearers, Smithers or Timmins in your family, you’ll find gems about their lives in this book. If you appreciate reading about the Town of Westmount, the borough of NDG or Montreal history, this is definitely a story you’ll want to discover.
At only 151 pages, A View of their Own: The Story of Westmount is a quick and easy read. Gubbays smooth writing style and her use of many anecdotes make it entertaining as well. I highly recommend it.
One of the first Canadian women who enlisted into the Royal Canadian Air Force committed suicide less than a year later.
Ten days after her 29th birthday, Hazel Winnifred Webb Seymour left a steady job with the Bell Telephone Company of Canada to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The unit operated under the motto: “we serve that men may fly.”
Ten months later, she swallowed three bottles of cleansers (iodine, cresol and carbolic acid) while in the hospital for hysteria. She died on September 10, 1942.
When she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Webb Seymour seemed like the perfect candidate. She was healthy, high-school educated, the right age and height, and well-trained in administrative duties. She was married, and had been for seven years, but the couple had no children as he was deployed overseas.
Her early days in the Air Force reinforced her aptitude for the job. One test resulted in the comment:
“One of the best on the course – always cheerful and will make a wonderfully reliable and good N.C.O. Suitable for a difficult station.”
An “assessment of character” completed in March 1942 also contained high praise: “industrious, capable, willing worker,” “highly resourceful,” and “merits accelerated promotion.”
Four months later, Seymour was admitted to the Station Hospital with something so serious, she stayed for eight days. From then on, she went in and out of hospitals, both civilian and military, until her suicide.
During an inquest about her death, Flight Lieutenant Allan Campbell Blair described what happened in the final three days of her life.
“It was considered that before she should be discharged on the grounds of this nervous disorder that it would be worthwhile to give her another chance and to this end was admitted to Station Hospital again to be kept under observation and the be employed doing small jobs about the hospital which was thought might be of benefit to her. She was apparently responding and there was, in my opinion, no need to restrict her freedom about the hospital. There was no evidence or intentions from her that she was planning self destruction. On September 10, at 1205 hours as Dr. Williams and myself were leaving the hospital we encountered her in the hall holding an iodine soaked stained towel to her mouth and she stated that she had just drunk three bottles of poison….”
After she died, her mother wrote to the military needing help.
“The funeral refund has not been sent to me and I really need that amount to help with my winters’ coal, if I can get any.”
Despite those pleas, the only cheque to the family reimbursed $154.16 they paid for Webb Seymour’s funeral.
Note: This story is a mini-version of a chapter in Tracey’s upcoming book: Steady Hands, Brave Heart: World War II’s effect on Canada.
 Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, testimony, Allan Campbell Blair, C3966.
 Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, letter, Pearl Web, August 28, 1943.
For years, I found the differences between primary and secondary sources confusing. Add the fact that you can have original and derivative versions of both and that either can be negative or positive proof and it all sounds like mumble jumble to someone who isn’t used to them all. Luckily, the glossary within the Board for Certification of Genealogists “Geneology Standards” manual makes all the important distinctions very clear.
For example, on page 72, the glossary defines “primary information” as:
A report of an event or circumstance by an eyewitness or participant; the opposite of secondary information.
This is just one of many confusing nonfiction research terms that are clearly defined in very simple language. The chapters within this pithy guide cover how to plan and research a story. It also shows how to properly cite sources. Several pointers throughout the guide clarify some of the most challenging nonfiction research challenges.
If you want to document, research and write stories about ancestors’ experiences, the guide is a must-have. In my opinion, it’s equally useful for any obsessive nonfiction researcher and writer who wants to communicate carefully and accurately.
Board for Certification of Genealogists Genealogy Standards. Edited by Thomas W. Jones. Washington: Turner Publishing Company, 2014. ISBN 978-1-630-26018-7