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.
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
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.
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, 1881, 1891, 1901, 1911. Also, I stumbled across the will of Kennie A. McLeod (Norman Sr. and Mary McLean’s youngest son).