• 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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  • Brick Walls,  Genie Trips,  Tips N Tricks


    How do you get three rather serious-looking genealogists in Sydney, Nova Scotia to crack a smile? Laugh even?

    Mention that you are looking for a Norman McLeod married to a Mary McLean.

    In September, I was on a Holland America cruise from NYC to Quebec City. I know, pretty epic.  Two of our stops were in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia: Halifax, the capital city, and Sydney, which is a smaller city on Cape Breton Island.

    In Sydney, I walked a few blocks from the cruise terminal and the world’s largest fiddle to the Cape Breton Genealogy and Historical Society.  There I met Maureen McNeil, Anna Roberts, and Karen Porter.  Three lovely and very helpful women.

    When I told them who I was looking for they chuckled. Guffawed even. 

    Apparently, about half of Cape Breton Island is related to a Norman McLeod and/or a Mary McLean (only a slight exaggeration, I’m sure).

    Here’s the backstory on why I spent several hours of cruise time with Maureen, Anna, and Karen (other than the obvious fact that I’m a genealogy junkie).

    Before I left for my cruise, my Mom worked with a friend on her family history. They were stumped. Brick wall city.

    Here’s what they knew:  Beverly (my Mom’s friend) knows her grandfather’s name was: Norman Chisholm McLeod (“Norman C” from here on in). He died in Pioche, Nevada in 1947.  Norman C was a carpenter who worked in the mines in Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico. He was married to Mary Louise McKinnon in 1903 in El Paso, Texas.

    Norman Chisholm Mcleod and Mary Louise McKinnon McLeod

    Here’s the kicker, Norman C isn’t from Texas.  From what he told his posterity, Norman C was born in Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia.  He left Nova Scotia as a young man after his mother died and his father remarried. Norman C. said his father was from Scotland and his mother from Nova Scotia.  Norman C’s favorite younger sister was named Katie. His death certificate, with information provided by his son-in-law, lists Norman C’s birthday as December 27, 1970 in Whycocomagh.  

    Whycocowhere? You Ask

    Nova Scotia, or “New Scotland” was settled by a large contingent of Scottish emigrants in the early 19th century.   Many of the place names on Cape Breton are directly borrowed from names, towns, counties, or cities in Scotland.

    Whycocomagh is not one of those towns.  Its name comes from an Indian word meaning “by the sea” .  Which is sort of ironic because Whycocomagh sits on an inland bay (Whycocomagh Bay), which is part of a channel (St. Patrick’s channel), which connects to a much larger inland lake (Bras D’Or Lake), which eventually connects to the St. Lawrence Bay and the Atlantic Ocean through a series of channels and inlets.

    Whycocomagh YouTube Video. Pretty, no?

    I digress.

    The family research conducted by Beverly and family had tied Norman C to a Norman McLeod (“Norman Sr.”) and Mary McLean living in a place called “the Marshes” in Inverness County, Cape Breton. The Marshes is on the outskirts of  West Bay, a tiny village in Inverness County, Cape Breton Island.

    The connection seemed to fit. Norman Sr. and Mary had a son named Norman, who according to census records, was born in 1870.  Norman Sr. and Mary also had a daughter Catherine (or Katie) who was younger than Norman Jr.

    On closer review and research, here’s what made the connection of Norman C to the family of Norman Sr. and Mary McLean problematic:

    Norman Jr. died young.  Norman Jr. appears to have been buried in the same cemetery as his father, mother, brother, and sister. Oh, and he died in 1897!

    Norman, Sr’s death certificate shows that he died in 1922 and that he was buried in the Lime Hill Cemetery, not far from West Bay. Also buried in the same cemetery are his wife Mary (died 1920), son Kennie, and daughter Katherine.  

    There is no indication that Norman Sr. remarried after Mary died in 1920 and before his own death in 1922. The 1921 Census shows Norman Sr, living with his two children and no wife.  So, no evil stepmother who drove Norman C. to immigrate to the US.

    No connection to Whycocomagh.  Norman Jr., and his parents, Norman Sr. and Mary, lived in West Bay and/or North Mountain, Inverness County, according to the census records we can find in 1871, 1881, and 1891.  West Bay (and North Mountain) is more than 48 km (30 miles) away from Whycocomagh. A significant distance in that time period.

    Also, while we have not yet located the birth record for Norman Jr, several of his siblings have birth/death records that show they were born in the area immediately surrounding West Bay and not anywhere near Whycocomagh.

    Chisholm? Norman Jr. did not appear to have any connection to the Chisholm name. From his marriage record on, Norman C used Chisholm as his middle name. Scottish naming conventions suggest that both Norman’s first name and middle name would tie to his family and that Chisholm was likely his mother’s maiden name. Death, marriage, and birth records of Norman, Sr. and Mary’s children show that Mary’s maiden name was McLean.

    Also, Norman Jr had a “J” for a middle initial. Not “C” and not Chisholm.  

    Census record.  Norman C’s family story was that he left Nova Scotia as a teenager after his mother died and his father remarried. The 1891 Census shows Norman still living with both parents at the age of 22. Not exactly a teenager. Also remember, Norman Jr. died 6 years later while still living in West Bay.

    Scotland Tie.  Finally, Norman Chisholm reported to his family and census records after his arrival in the United States that his father was born in Scotland and not Nova Scotia. Norman Sr was born and lived his whole life in the West Bay area.

    Stay Tuned for the next installment: Death Certificate 101 and Whycocomagh: Jackpot!

    Takeaways and Tips: Look closely at the details of every document. Google the location of the places you are researching and the distance between them. Don’t let something like a birthdate (especially when reported by a 3rd party) bind you up in your research.

    Also, don’t buy a photo of a town your client’s ancestors came from unless you know they really came from there!

    P.S. – For those of you just dying for more Census records, here is Norman Sr. and Mary in 1871,  188118911901,  1911.  Also, I stumbled across the will of Kennie A. McLeod (Norman Sr. and Mary McLean’s youngest son).  

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