• Brick Walls,  Genie Tip

    Back it Up: McLeod Saga Continues

    If you are just tuning in now, this post is the second in a series on Nova Scotia genealogy and the McLeod clan.  Read the first post here

    When we left off last time, we had disproved the connection between Norman Chisholm McLeod (“Norman C”) and Norman, Sr. and Mary McLean McLeod of West Bay, Nova Scotia.

    Where and how to begin again? 

    We backed up and started with what we knew.  From Norman C’s death certificate his birth date is December 27, 1870.  Neither of his parents is listed and his birthplace is listed as “Wycogomma, N.S.” (sic).

    Now, the thing to remember about death certificates (and birth certificates) is that another person has to report the information.  In this case, the “informant” is E.W. Walker, Norman C’s son-in-law.  What that means is that while helpful, death certificates are not always 100% accurate. 

    Norman C.’s Death Certificate. What’s different?

    Before leaving the death certificate, there is one more useful bit of information it provides.  Did you spot it? 

    Norman C’s social security number!  Social Security numbers on death certificates are fairly rare, and especially in 1947 because the Social Security Act was only passed 12 years earlier.

    I was able to locate a claim for  Norman C. in the Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007 (Claims Index).  Unfortunately, this record provided nothing new.  Again, the Claims Index, like the Death Certificate is usually completed by someone other than the person we are researching. In most cases, the Claims Index is information provided by a relative who filed a claim for death benefits.

    Unlike a claim for benefits, an Application for Social Security Number is generally completed by the person requesting the Social Security number. The information in the social security application may include:

    • applicant’s full name
    • Social Security Number (SSN)
    • date and place of birth
    • citizenship
    • sex
    • father’s name
    • mother’s maiden name
    • race/ethnic description (optional)

    The SS-5 form can be requested online and is well-worth the $27 fee, particularly if you want to verify any of this information. For more info on how an application differs from the indices available online, Legacy Tree has a great article.  Also, check out this article by the Legal Genealogist for further tips and tricks when ordering your ancestors’ SS-5.   

    That’s what we did for Norman C.  We filed a request for his SS-5. After a few weeks wait, a golden ticket arrived. No, not really. Just this little gem:

    Jackpot! In Norman’s own hand he has listed both his mother’s and his father’s names as well as his birth date (which we now believe is incorrect).

    As a side note, part of the reason this SS-5 form was so important is that the marriage record for Norman C does not provide parents’ names. This was Texas, 1903 and they didn’t require many particulars to tie the knot. Apparently, not even full names were required; initials would do.

    Marriage Record from El Paso County, Texas

    Research Hint: Search for ancestors using initials as well as variations of their first, middle, and last names.

    Now, here’s the thing. Before we received the SS-5 form in the mail, my Mom and I had narrowed down two possible McLeod families living in the Whycocomagh area. Both had Normans that appeared in the 1881 Candian Census and were about the right age. We quickly narrowed down on one family in particular: Donald and Mary McLeod who had six children (ages 13 -4). One of those children was Norman, with a younger sister named Katie (again, something family legend indicated). Also living with Donald and Mary in 1881 were Murdoch McLeod (who we would later confirmed was Donald’s father) and Mary McLeod (Donald’s sister).

    We were able to trace the family backward into the 1871 Census and forward into the 1891 Census.

    By the by, finding the McLeods in the 1891 census was no easy feat. We tried various combinations of the McLeods’ last name and first names but were unable to locate the record. Eventually, I went page by page through the census records for Whycocomagh and located the record. If you take a gander, the record is split between two pages, difficult to read, and lists the family as “Leod Mc”.

    Two things struck me about the 1891 census. This would have been just before Norman left for the United States. The family lore was that Norman left not long after his mother died and his father remarried. The 1891 Census shows Donald as a widower. His father, Murdoch is no longer living with the family, but Mary his sister is. So first off, the record confirmed what Norman C. had said about his mother dying. Secondly, it confirmed that this Norman’s middle intial was C.

    As I continued to look into the census records, I found what appeared to be the record for Donald McLeod in the 1901 Census. Like the 1891 Census, this one was a toughy because the writing is faded and difficult to read. What appeared to connect this Donald with the other Donalds were: 1) location in Whycocomagh; 2) age; 3) birth in Scotland.

    Again, this record seemed to coincide with the family narrative. Donald is remarried (to a much younger woman, I will add). Not only is Norman no longer living with Donald, but also none of the other six children are living with him (the youngest would have been 24). Also, Donald’s sister Mary is no longer in the same home (a mystery for another day).

    After the census records, we turned our attention to finding out more about Mary McLeod, the mother of this family. On an initial search of the Canadian Records, we found a marriage record with what appeared to be all the right information.

    However, the record showed Mary’s maiden name as McLeod, which didn’t match our guess and birth records we found for two children that Chisholm was not only Norman’s middle name but also Mary’s maiden name.

    So what’s a girl to do? We went to the original source. We could not do a simple name search and click on the image because the records had not been indexed.  We browsed the 21,950 images that comprise the Nova Scotia Marriages, 1864-1918 record, searching first for County and then by year until we found the correct date. 

    Here’s what we found:


    Yeah sure, the record looks like both the bride and groom have the same last name…but then take a closer look. The record directly below has the bride and groom with the same name too.

    Look closer still. The bride’s parents’ names are Alex and Christy Chisholm (also the names of Donald and Mary’s oldest son and daughter), which is also the name of the bride’s parents in the entry immediately following. Yep, Mary and her sister Catherine were married within a few days of each other and they were Chisholms and not McLeods.

    What is very exciting about this record is that it confirms the 1871 census record, which reflects that Donald’s parents were Murdoch and Mary, who lived with the family until their deaths in the 1890s. 

    As if this marriage record were not enough to confirm that these were indeed Norman C.’s parents, we were also able to locate the marriage record for Donald McLeod and his second wife, Sarah McKinnon in 1892.

    This record helped confirm that the Donald in the 1901 Census record was, in fact, our Donald McLeod. The record shows that he is a 53-year-old widower, from Skye Mountain (a hamlet near Whycocomagh) and that his parents were Murdoch (not the clearest version of his name) and Mary.

    Research Hint: Make sure to read the records surrounding your ancestor’s record for gems.

    Just as the marriage record between Donald and Mary held the surprising entry of her sister Catherine’s marriage, Donald and Sarah’s marriage record also held a surprise. There, just three entries below their record was the marriage record for Christy Ann McLeod and Archibald McLeod (in this instance it was not a typo that they both had the same last name). Christy Ann was Norman C.’s older sister who married just one week after her father, Donald, was remarried.

    Needless to say, after a few weeks of waiting, when the SS-5 form finally arrived there was much rejoicing (and even a few tears) to see Norman C.’s parents listed as Donald McLeod and Mary Chisholm. Norman C.’s family was found at last!

    PostScript. As a final cherry on the top, as I mapped Whycocomagh to determine if the marriage places, census places, and other records were within close proximity to one another I found something surprising. While the community that was Skye Mountain does not appear to exist anymore, there on the map, between Whycocomagh and Skye Mountain is Donald McLeod road. Could it be named after our Donald? That’s a mystery for another day.

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