A Trio of Death Certificates

For a genealogist, any day that brings three new death certificates in the mail is a good day.

Back at the end of April, I wrote about my discovery of my great-great-granduncle, Alexander Dodds, who disappeared from documentary evidence in Canadian records after the 1881 census. Thanks to clues provided by DNA matches, I was able to determine that Alexander migrated to Buffalo, New York where he married Hazel Jean (or Jennie Hazel) McCarroll and had two children, Della and Spencer, prior to his death in 1899. While searching for his death record in the Buffalo, New York Death Index, I serendipitously came across the entry for the death certificate of his brother, Gilbert M. Dodds, who died in 1898. Then, since I was already writing to the Buffalo City Clerk to request those records, I decided to add in a request for the death certificate of their older sister, Isabella (née Dodds) Smith. I’d known previously that Isabella died in Buffalo, but I’d never gotten around to requesting a copy of the record, so this seemed to be a good time to do it. After a long wait, those death certificates finally arrived, so let’s analyze them here, in the context of my existing research into my Dodds family.

Isabella Smith

My burning questions regarding my Dodds family concern the origins of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine Dodds, whom I’ve written about previously. Evidence points pretty consistently to a birth circa 1817 in England for Robert, and possibly a specific date of 28 January 1817 as was reported (probably by Robert himself) in the 1901 census.1 Less is known about Catherine’s place of birth, however, and there’s even some doubt about her maiden name, since it has been reported as both Irving2 and Grant.3 In that regard, the death certificate for Isabella (née Dodds) Smith was most informative, since it was the only one of the three death certificates to mention a maiden name for Catherine. (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Death certificate for Isabell [sic] H. Smith.4

Unpacking the other details from the certificate first, we can see that Isabell [sic] H. Smith of 381 Rhode Island Street in Buffalo, died on 22 September 1917 due to a cerebral hemorrhage which she suffered about 6 weeks previously. A contributing cause of death was chronic myocarditis. Isabella was noted to be a widow, born 4 November 1844 in Canada, and she lived in the U.S. for 24 years prior to her death, spending all of that time in Buffalo. That suggests an arrival in 1893, which is a few years off from the arrival in 1897 which she reported in the 1910 census, but still in the same ballpark.5 No immigration record can be sought to confirm her arrival date since the U.S. did not begin documenting Canadian-born immigrants until 1 October 1906.6 Isabella was laid to rest in the Buffalo Cemetery on 25 September 1917, and the informant on the death certificate was her oldest daughter, Margaret (née Smith) Moorhouse, who lived with her. Margaret reported that Isabella’s parents were Robert Dodds and Catherine Grant, which lends further support to the hypothesis that Catherine’s maiden name was Grant and not Irving. However, Margaret identified both Robert and Catherine as having been born in Canada, and this is almost certainly incorrect in Robert’s case, in light of the substantial body of evidence supporting the assertion that he was born in England.

Alexander Dodds

Next up, we have the death certificate for Alexander Dodds (Figure 2). The image I received is of rather low quality due to faded ink and darkened paper, but it’s nevertheless possible to read that Alexander Dodds died on 13 April 1899 due to pulmonary phthisis, which is more commonly known as tuberculosis. He was buried at Lakeside Cemetery on a date in April that’s difficult to make out, possibly the 23rd. Alexander was reported to be age 49 years, 1 month, and 25 days at the time of his death. Running that information through a date calculator points to a birth date of 19 February 1850, consistent with the expectation that he was born circa 1849-1850 based on his age reported in census records. He was a married laborer, born in Canada, who had been a resident in the U.S. for 15 years, and living in Buffalo for that entire time period. This suggests that he arrived in the U.S. circa 1884. Alexander’s parents’ names were reported to be Robert and Catherine, but no maiden name was given for his mother. Moreover, both parents were reported to have been born in England—a statement which is unlikely to be true in Catherine’s case. Alexander’s last place of residence was decipherable as Auburn Avenue, although the house number (212, perhaps?) is harder to read.

Figure 2: Death certificate for Alexander Dodds.7

The fact that Alexander was buried at Lakeside Cemetery is new information for me. Lakeside is an old, historic cemetery located in Hamburg, New York, about 10 miles south of Buffalo. Lakeside is managed by the Forest Lawn group of cemeteries, and they happen to have a fantastic website where one can search burials and even download cemetery records, such as this burial card for my great-great-grandmother, Martha Dodds Walsh, another sibling of Alexander, Isabella and Gilbert. Unfortunately, the information for Alexander which is offered on the website is much more limited. The service card (Figure 3) barely confirms the information on the death certificate, inasmuch as there is a burial record for an Alexander Dodds, but it offers no details about date of death, or parents’ names.

Figure 3: Service card for Alexander Dodds from Lakeside Cemetery, Hamburg, New York.8

Alexander’s age at the time of death, 40, is also in conflict with the information on the death certificate, which stated that he was 49 years old at the time of death. However, it may have been a transcription error, and in any case, the funeral director, “Geo. J. Altman,” is a match to the George J. Altman who was reported on Alexander’s death certificate as the undertaker.

Gilbert M. Dodds

Last, but not least, we have the death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds (Figure 4).

Figure 4: Death certificate for Gilbert M. Dodds.9

The image quality here is only slightly better than that for Alexander’s death certificate, but the record states that Gilbert died on 4 January 1898 of pernicious anemia, a form of anemia caused by a deficiency in vitamin B12, with which he had been diagnosed five years previously. He was buried that same month in St. Catharines, Ontario, but the name of the cemetery was not provided, nor is the exact date of burial legible. Gilbert was reported to be age 42 years, 3 months and 25 days at the time of his death, suggesting a birth date of 11 September 1855. Estimates for his year of birth as suggested by census records and other documents ranged between 1855–1860, but the earliest records (e.g. the 1861 census)10 pointed to a birth year of 1855, so this certificate is in excellent agreement. He was married at the time of his death, and employed as a driver. As expected, Gilbert was born in Canada, but had been living in Buffalo for five years prior to his death, which implies an arrival in the U.S. circa 1893, so his arrival coincided with that of his sister, Isabella Smith. His last residence was at 408 Massachusetts Avenue, in close proximity to the final residences reported by his siblings (Figure 5). Finally, the certificate identifies Gilbert’s parents as Robert Dodds, born in England, and Catherine Dodds, born in Canada.

Figure 5: Map showing last residences of Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith on Buffalo’s West Side. Google Maps.

Conclusions

Experienced genealogists know how valuable death records can be, especially when they identify the parents of the deceased. They’re also relatively easy to obtain, with just a letter and a check in the mail, so I’m always amazed by the fact that so many family historians only mention them in their trees when the scans are available online. The most significant drawback is that the information on a death certificate was not provided by the individual himself or herself, but rather by a family member or some other individual who was more or less acquainted with the deceased. Thanks to these death certificates, I was able to discover exact dates of birth for Dodds siblings Alexander, Gilbert, and Isabella Smith, as well as an exact date of death for Alexander. I identified Alexander’s final resting place as Lakeview Cemetery, which opens up the possibility of further research in cemetery records, in case they might have anything that’s not online. I obtained corroborating evidence for a number of previously-known facts in my family tree. And, although these certificates did nothing to dispel the confusion over Catherine Dodds’ place of birth, the certificate for Isabella Smith added to the growing body of evidence in support of the hypothesis that Catherine was a Grant by birth. All in all, that was a pretty good day, indeed.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

Sources:

11901 Census of Canada, Ontario population schedule, Lincoln and Niagara district no. 85, St. Catharines sub-district K, division no. 6, household no. 117, James Carty household; database with images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/ : 17 August 2021), item no. 2026840, image no. z000079820, citing microfilm T-6480, RG31.

2 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1935, vol. 820, no. 4549, Martha Dodds Walsh, 11 August 1935; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

3 “Ontario Deaths, 1869-1937 and Overseas Deaths, 1939-1947,” database, FamilySearch, (https://familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Hannah Carty, 3 June 1914; Deaths > 1914 > no 19125-22410 > image 370 of 1638; citing Registrar General. Archives of Ontario, Toronto.

4 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1917, vol. 273, no. 6001, Isabell H. Smith, 22 September 1917, Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

5 1910 United States Federal Census, Erie County, New York, population schedule, Buffalo Ward 21, Enumeration District 206, Sheet 7A, house no. 18 1/2, family no. 27, William Smith household; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 18 August 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 947 of 1,178 rolls, FHL microfilm 1374960.

6 Marian L. Smith, “By Way of Canada,” Prologue Magazine, Vol. 32, No. 3 (Fall 2000), National Archives (https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2000/fall/us-canada-immigration-records-1.html : 18 August 2021).

7 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1899, Vol. 34, no. 258, Alexander Dodds, 13 April 1899; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.

8 Forest Lawn Cemetery Group, burial records database, Forest Lawn (https://forest-lawn.com/ : 18 August 2021), service card for Alexander Dodds, buried Lakeside Cemetery, block one, grave 142.

9 New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1898, vol. 21, no. 71, Gilbert M. Dodds, 4 January 1898; Buffalo, New York, City Clerk, 1302 City Hall, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo NY 14202.

10 1861 Census of Canada, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, Enumeration District 4, p 80, lines 1-9, Robert Dodds household; digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 19 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.

New Discoveries for John Dodds

Discoveries on my Dodds line are coming thick and fast these days, thanks to hints found in my paternal aunt’s DNA match list. This past week, I discovered the fate of one John H. Dodds, the fifth child of my great-great-great-grandparents, Robert and Catherine (Grant or Irving?) Dodds. I’ve written about my Dodds family recently, and the question of Catherine’s parentage is one of the brick walls in my research, which was summarized here.

Introducing John Dodds

Like his brother, Alexander, who was the subject of my last blog post, John Dodds was first found to be living with his family in St. Catharines, Ontario, in 1861 (Figure 1). John was seven years old, suggesting a birth year circa 1854. His father, Robert Dodds, was a laborer, born circa 1822 in England, and a W[esleyan] Methodist. His mother, Katherine [sic] Dodds, was born in Upper Canada circa 1830, according to this document, but that year is suspect since their oldest child, Hannah, was recorded as being 19 years of age, which would imply that Catherine gave birth to her at the age of 12.

Figure 1: Detail of 1861 Census of Canada showing John Dodds.1

By 1871, the family had moved to Yarmouth Township in Elgin County (Figure 2). John H. Dodds was reported to be 18 years of age, which suggests a birth year circa 1853. He was born in Ontario, was employed as a laborer, and was reported to be of English origin through his father, but of the Presbyterian faith, along with his Scottish mother. Despite the family’s varying religious practices, the names and ages of the family members confirm that this is the same Dodds family found in 1861. This census also suggests a more reasonable birth year of 1820 for John’s mother, Catherine Dodds, since she and her husband were both noted to be 51 years of age.

Figure 2: Detail of 1871 Census of Canada showing John H. Dodds.2

After this census, however, John H. Dodds seemed to disappear. There were no good matches for him living anywhere near other members of his family, and his name was sufficiently common that chasing down each John Dodds living in North America after 1871 seemed like a thankless task. As was the case with Alexander, the trail grew cold in absence of better clues.

DNA Shows the Way, Again

However, buoyed by my recent success with tracking down Alexander Dodds, I went back to Ancestry DNA to see if I could use my paternal grand-aunt’s match list to find any additional clues to illuminate my Dodds research. Although I most often use the “shared matches” feature for this, this time around I did a search of the match list for any matches which mentioned the surname Dodds in their family tree. A match came up to a woman whom I’ll call B.Y. (again, not her real initials) whose public, linked tree featured a great-great-grandfather named John Dodds. Although the parents of this John Dodds were not known, there was some promising evidence in the tree that suggested that this might be “my” John Dodds, son of Robert and Catherine. For starters, the 1900 census showed that John Dodds was born in February 1860 in English Canada, i.e. Ontario (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Detail of 1900 U.S. census showing John Dodds household.

A birth year of 1860 would make him a few years younger than “my” John Dodds ought to be, given previous evidence that suggested a birth year circa 1853-1854. However, this census also notes that his wife, Lena Dodds, was born in January 1874, so it may have been that John was fudging a bit to minimize the 20-year age difference between him and his wife. The Dodds family was living in Pike township, Potter County, Pennsylvania—a rural area about 125 miles due south of Rochester, New York. Without this clue from DNA evidence, it’s safe to say I never would have thought to look for “my” John Dodds there, nor would I necessarily have recognized him as the same John Dodds, even if he did turn up in a search of this census. According to this census, John Dodds’ father was born in Canada and his mother was born in England, while the reverse is true for “my” John Dodds. Between that, and the discrepancy in his age, it would have been easy to dismiss any connection, based solely on this one document. But just wait.

By 1900, John had been married to his wife, Lena, for eight years, suggesting that they married circa 1892. John was employed as a farmer who owned his own farm. He was further reported to be an alien who had been living in the U.S. for 19 years, following his arrival in 1881. The year of arrival would explain his absence from the 1881 census of Canada. Lena Dodds was born in Pennsylvania, as were both of her parents. She was noted to be the mother of two children, both of whom were living at that time and appear in this census. Those children were Flossie H. Dodds, born February 1895, and Robert L. Dodds, born August 1897.

The death certificate for John and Lena’s son, Robert L. Dodds, confirmed the information in B.Y.’s linked tree, that Lena Dodds’ maiden name was Frazier (Figure 4).4

Figure 4: Detail of Robert L. Dodds death certificate showing parents’ names.4

We can be certain that the Robert L. Dodds described in this death certificate is the same Robert L. Dodds as the son who appeared in the 1900 census because the date and place of birth, 20 August 1897 in [West] Pike, Pennsylvania, are a match.

John Dodds’ own death certificate confirmed that his father’s name was Robert Dodds (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Death certificate for John Dodds, 24 June 1941.5

According to this document, John Dodds died on 24 June 1941 in Ulysses, Pennsylvania—a borough in Potter County, the same county in which John was living in 1900. He was married, and his wife’s name was given only as Lena M. Dodds, no maiden name indicated. He was reported to have been born on 24 February 1860 in Canada, a data consistent with the date of February 1860 reported on the 1900 census. The day and month of birth may well be correct, even if the year is off. His father was identified as Robert Dodds, born in England, and his mother’s place of birth was identified as Canada, although her name was not known by the informant, Mrs. William Straitz of Coudersport, Pennsylvania.

So far, so good. Based on the preliminary evidence from these three documents, we can hypothesize that John Dodds of Potter County, Pennsylvania, who was the husband of Lena Frazier Dodds and was born in Canada circa 1860 to Robert Dodds and an unknown mother, is the same as the John H. Dodds in my family tree. If this hypothesis is correct, then B.Y. would be a second cousin twice removed (2C2R) to my Dad’s aunt. The amount of DNA shared between them, 51 centimorgans (cM), is consistent with this relationship, although other relationships are also possible, including 1/2 2C2R, which is statistically more probable than 2C2R. (That’s another question for another day.) At this point, I figured we could really use a marriage record for John Dodds and Lena Frazier, indicating parents’ names, to tie all this together.

Midnight Madness

You know those late-night research sessions where you’re on a roll, and things are moving fast, and in the heady excitement of the moment, you’re not making notes about the process as carefully as you should? If you’re reading this, of course you do. Well, that happened to me when I made the breakthrough discovery on my John Dodds research, and for the life of me, I can no longer recall exactly what it was that inspired me to look for the record of his marriage to Lena Frazier in New York, rather than in Pennsylvania. But for some reason, I did just that: I checked the Allegany County, New York pages of the New York GenWeb project. If you’re unfamiliar with the USA GenWeb Project, you should definitely check it out, drilling down to your particular counties of interest, because it’s a fantastic resource that has been a favorite of mine since its inception in the late 1990s. In this case, the Allegany County page offers vital records transcriptions, including a page of marriage transcriptions from the town of Willing, New York, covering 1849-1920 (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Detail of “Willing, Allegany Co., New York, Marriages, 1849-1920,” showing record of marriage of John Dodd and Lina Frazier.6

And there it is! Smoking-gun evidence that John Dodd [sic], the 34-year-old farmer residing in Potter County, Pennsylvania, who married Lina [sic] Frazier, was the son of Robert Dodd [sic] and Catherine Grant. John’s age suggests a birth year of 1857, a bit closer to the probable reality of 1853-1854, and he was born in Canada, as expected. One wonders if this was perhaps a second marriage for him, since a “1” was recorded in the “No. of marriage” column for Lena (indicating this was her first marriage) but there is no notation in the corresponding column for the groom. Of course, it may be that this information was merely omitted from the transcription. In a column on the far right, which does not appear in this image, it states that the marriage took place on 20 April 1891, which is an approximate match to the information from the 1900 census that they were married in 1892. In fact, when I wrote to the Willing town clerk to request a copy of the actual marriage record, she informed me that the marriage date according to their records was 20 April 1892, not 1891, so mistakes do happen. It may be that the original record is exceptionally faded or illegible, which impacted the indexer’s ability to read both the marriage date, and any information that may have been recorded in the “no. of marriage” column for the groom.

Tag-Team Genealogy

Of course, there’s quite a bit more research that can, and should, be done to tell this family’s story. Nonetheless, by this point I was so excited that I emailed my Aunt Carol to tell her I’d found our John Dodds, after which a busy week ensued with little time for additional research. However, Aunt Carol took up the cause and was able to fill out the family tree quite nicely with loads of additional documents. Among her discoveries were two documents that I found to be especially noteworthy. The first was an entry in the 1880 census from Foster Township in McKean County, Pennsylvania, for the household of Gilford [sic] and Jno. [sic] Dodd [sic], two laborers who were lodgers at a boarding house run by David and Caroline White (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Detail of 1880 census showing Gilford [sic] and Jno. Dodd [sic].7

The township of Foster is located just south of the New York-Pennsylvania border, and about 50 miles west of Willing, New York, where John Dodds would eventually marry Lena Frazier. “Jno” is an old-fashioned abbreviation for “John” commonly found in genealogical documents. John was reported to be single, and age 24, which suggests a birth year circa 1856. We’re inching ever closer to the years 1853-1854 reported in the earliest documents, which are likely to be the most accurate. He was born in Canada, to Canadian-born parents. A residence within the U.S. in 1880 would be fairly consistent with the immigration year of 1881 which John Dodds reported in the 1900 census.

John and “Gilford” Dodd were enumerated as their own household, separate from the household of the boarding-house owner and the other tenants, which might be construed as evidence for a family relationship, rather than John and “Gilford” being two random boarders who happened to share a surname. In fact, “Gilford” is likely to be Gilbert M. Dodds, John’s brother, who was age 15 in the 1871 census, suggesting a birth year circa 1856. Gilbert does not appear in the 1881 census of Canada, and this record does a nice job of explaining why that might be. According to this census, “Gilford” was single and age 22, which points to a birth year circa 1858. He, too, was said to have been born in Canada of Canadian-born parents. Gilbert would eventually marry Annie Mann on 11 November 1885 in Port Stanley, Elgin County, Ontario8 and I’m pretty sure he died in Buffalo, New York,9 but that’s another story for another day. (I’m still waiting for his death certificate to arrive in the mail!)

The second neat bit of evidence that Aunt Carol found was the World War I draft registration card for John’s son, Robert Lawrence Dodds—the same Robert L. Dodds whose death certificate is shown in Figure 4. The subject of the draft card (Figure 8) resided at 504 Sullivan Street in Elmira, New York. He was born on 20 August 1897 in West Pike, Pennsylvania—information which matches that found on the death certificate for Robert L. Dodds exactly. His nearest relative was noted to be Lena Dodds, living in Ulysses, Pennsylvania, and a further identification of “mother” was written to the right of her name. Although his father’s name was not mentioned on this document, the form included a space for the father’s birthplace, and here it was noted that Robert Lawrence Dodds’ father was born in Port Stanley, Canada.

Figure 9: Front side of World War I draft registration card for Robert Lawrence Dodds.10

Port Stanley, Ontario, no longer exists as an independent municipality today. It’s a small place that was amalgamated with the village of Belmont and with Yarmouth Township—where the Dodds family was known to be living in 1871—to form the municipality of Central Elgin in 1998.11 Since the earliest document found to date for John Dodds was that 1861 census in which the family was living in St. Catharines, Ontario, the information from this draft card, if accurate, suggests a different timeline for the family of Robert and Catherine Dodds than the one I’ve been envisioning for them. If the family were living in Port Stanley circa 1853 when their son John was born, then perhaps Robert and Catherine started their marriage in Elgin County and then moved to St. Catherines, rather than the reverse. Of course, this is all speculative, and there are still many questions which have yet to be answered about the early life of the Dodds family, their migrations, and about the identities of Robert’s and Catherine’s parents. But little discoveries like the ones I’ve made this week give me hope that maybe, if I keep chipping away at it, those brick walls will eventually crumble.

Sources:

1 Census of Canada, 1861, population schedule, Canada West, Lincoln, Grantham, E.D. 4, p 80, lines 1–9, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), Item no. 1884852, citing Microfilm C-1048-1049.

Census of Canada, 1871, population schedule, Ontario, East Elgin, Yarmouth, David Parish, division no. 2, p 73, lines 2–8, Robert Dodds household, accessed as digital images, Library and Archives Canada (https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/Pages/home.aspx : 28 April 2021 ), item no. 454129, citing Microfilm: C-9898, Reference: RG31.

3 1900 United States Federal Census, Potter, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Pike Township, enumeration district (ED) 107, sheet no. 2B, dwelling 35, family 38, John H. Dodds household; digital image, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com : 8 May 2021); citing NARA microfilmT623, 1854 rolls, no roll specified.

4 “Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates, 1906-1967,” database, Robert L. Dodds, 13 April 1968, certificate no. 040689-68; digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 May 2021), certificate no. range 039901-042750, image 804 of 2909; citing Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906-1968. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

5 “Pennsylvania, U.S., Death Certificates, 1906-1967,” database, John Dodds, 24 June 1941, certificate no. 7817, digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 8 May 2021), certificate no. range 005251-008250, image 3142 of 3654; citing Pennsylvania (State). Death certificates, 1906-1968. Series 11.90 (1,905 cartons). Records of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, Record Group 11. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

6 Charlie Barrett, “Historic Records – Willing, Allegany Co., New York, Marriages, 1849-1920,” database, John Dodd and Lina Frazier, 20 April 1891, “Allegany County, New York,” NYGenWeb (http://allegany.nygenweb.net/index.html : 8 May 2021).

7 1880 United States Federal Census, McKean County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Foster Township, Enumeration District (E.D.) 77, Sheet 51A, household no. 787, Gilford and Jno. Dodd, digital image, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com : 8 May 2021), citing NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 1153 of 1,454 rolls.

8 “Ontario Marriages, 1869-1927,” database, 1885, no. 2663, marriage record for Gilbert M. Dodds and Annie Mann; digital image, Family Search (https://familysearch.org : 8 May 2021); citing Registrar General of Ontario, Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

9 Buffalo, Erie, New York, Death Index, 1897-1902, p. 206, Gilbert M. Dodds, Vol. 21, no. 71, 1898, and Alexander Dodds, Vol. 34, no. 258, 1899, digital images, Internet Archive (https://archive.org/ : 17 April 2021), image 225 of 1140, citing Index to Deaths, in Buffalo, New York, 1852-1944, 65 Niagara Square, Buffalo, New York.

10 “United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” database with images, FamilySearch, (https://www.familysearch.org/ : 8 May 2021), Robert Lawrence Dodds; Pennsylvania > Potter County; A-R > image 1017 of 3424; citing NARA microfilm publication M1509 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).

11 “Place: Yarmouth, Elgin, Ontario, Canada,” WeRelate (https://www.werelate.org/ : 8 May 2021).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2021

On Research Distractions and Why a Good Archivist Can Be Your Best Friend

I’ve never been one of those family historians who likes to stick to researching just one family line until it’s “complete” and then start another line.  For one thing, in our hobby, each answer (i.e. a person’s name) leads to two more questions (his or her parents’ names).  Sometimes a new bit of data can turn up unexpectedly, which prompts me to drop the research I’d been working on and follow the new trail for a while to see where it leads.  This tendency toward distraction is sometimes referred to as “genealogical ADD,” and there are plenty of internet memes which suggest that this is a good way to waste a lot of time with little to show for it in the end.  However, I often find that taking a break from a line and coming back to it later helps me to see the research with fresh eyes, allowing me to make new connections in the data that I’d missed previously.

I’ve discovered that the secret to making progress while jumping around in my research is to keep good research notes.  I use Family Tree Maker, which currently offers options for both “person notes” and “research notes.”  I use this section to keep a research journal, where I analyze my data, brainstorm hypotheses, plan my next steps, and keep track of phone calls and correspondence with archives, collaborators, churches, cemetery offices, etc.  Sometimes it takes time before a reply is received, so rather than sitting by the phone with bated breath, I move on to other research tasks.

The other day, something prompted me to take a look at where I’d left things with my Dodds line from St. Catharines, Ontario.  Robert Dodds was one of my great-great-great-grandfathers on my Dad’s side of the family, born in England on 28 January 1817, according to the 1901 Census of Canada.  He died on 16 August 1906, according to his civil death certificate, and is buried in St. Catharines in Victoria Lawn Cemetery, Section G.  Unfortunately, this civil death certificate does not reveal Robert’s parents’ names, which I need to know in order to further my research.  His marriage record might also mention his parents’ names, but unfortunately, that’s been difficult to locate as well.

Robert married Catherine, whose maiden name has been variously reported as Irving1 or Grant.2  Most sources agree that Catherine was born in Ontario of Scottish parents, rather than having herself been born in Scotland, as suggested by the death record of her daughter (my great-great-grandmother), Martha Agnes (née Dodds) Walsh.1  Robert and Catherine probably married circa 1839-1840, since their oldest daughter, Hannah Dodds, was born 20 January 1841. However, early records for Upper Canada/Canada West are very spotty, as many did not survive, and it’s not clear exactly where Robert and Catherine married, or even in what faith.

Robert Dodds reported his faith as Methodist in 1861, Church of England in 1871,  Methodist in 1881, and Church of England again in 1891 and 1901.  Catherine Dodds reported her faith as Methodist in 1861, Presbyterian in 1871, and she died in 1872.  Rather conveniently, the Methodist and most of the Presbyterian churches in Canada merged with some other Protestant faiths in 1925 to become the United Church of Canada, so their archive is an obvious place to check for the marriage record.  About 30% of the Presbyterian churches in Canada chose not to participate in this merger, and these non-concurring or continuing Presbyterian churches became the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  Again, their archive is another obvious place to check.  However, many congregations have retained their own records instead of sending them to the archives, so it’s important to know where the marriage took place.

This brings me to the second problem, determining where they married.  It’s common to use census records to track the movement of families and individuals, but unfortunately, the first time we see Robert and Catherine in the census is in 1861, when they are living in Grantham and are already the parents of seven children.  As mentioned previously, it’s likely that Robert and Catherine were married circa 1840, so the 1842 Census for Canada West would be an obvious place to search for the young family to see if they were already in Grantham at that point, or if they were elsewhere in the province.  Unfortunately, most of the returns for this census did not survive, including those for Lincoln, Elgin, and Glengarry Counties, which are the three counties associated with this family based on other records. The situation is not much better with the 1851 Census. As luck would have it, and despite the fact that many returns for the Lincoln District did survive, the returns for the Township of Grantham and the City of St. Catharines did not.

By 1871, the family had moved to Yarmouth Township in Elgin County, where Catherine died in 1872 and is buried in Union Cemetery.  Her grave transcription reads, “DODDS /  In Memory of /  Catharine /  wife of /  Robert DODDS /  died /  June 12, 1872 /  aged 54 yrs. 1 month & 22 days.  /  My children dear assemble here  /  A mother’s grave to see  /  Not long age I dwell with you  /  But soon you’l dwell with me.”  (I find that transcription especially compelling in a morbid sort of way.)  Catherine’s death certificate states that she was born in “Martin Town,” that she was Presbyterian, and that she died at the age of 53, which would suggest a birth year of 1819.  Her grave marker suggests a birth date of 20 April 1818.  “Martin Town” points clearly to Martintown, Glengarry County, Ontario, a place settled by immigrants from the Scottish Highlands, which is consistent with what we know of Catherine’s Scottish parentage.

The original Presbyterian Church that served Martintown was St. Andrew’s in Williamstown.  Marriage records for this church are indexed here for the time period from 1779 to 1914 “with a couple of gaps.”3  However, closer inspection reveals that there are no marriage records past 1815.  In fact, this index seems to correspond to the collection of St. Andrew’s church records available on microfilm from the LDS, which exhibits the same gap from 1818 until 1855.  And as luck would have it, that gap neatly encompasses both Catherine’s birth record, circa 1818, as well as the record of her marriage, if it took place in this parish, circa 1840.  So at this point, we can’t say whether the negative result is because the record no longer exists, or because Robert and Catherine Dodds did not marry in this parish.  For kicks, I checked all the indexed births, marriages and deaths for the surnames Grant and Irving, even though the particular range of years I need is not available.   Interestingly, I discovered that the surname Irving does not exist anywhere in these indexed records, although the surname Grant is quite common in the parish.

So where does that leave us?  Well, at this point, I still don’t know where Catherine and Robert might have met and married.  It might have been at St. Andrew’s in Williamstown, but if that’s the case, then the record may no longer exist.  I still don’t know Catherine’s parents’ names, although the data seem to point toward Grant as a more likely candidate for her maiden name than Irving.  But even in the absence of birth and marriage records, it occurred to me that I could still try to find church burial records for both Catherine and Robert, and perhaps by some miracle, these might contain their parents’ names, even though the civil death records did not.

I struck out fast with Catherine’s death record.  I contacted Union United Church, which is the descendant of the original Union Wesleyan Methodist Church which operates the cemetery in which Catherine was buried, to inquire about burial records.  Unfortunately, I was told that they, “have no records that date that far back any longer either.”4  Robert’s church death record seemed a bit more promising, as there were a number of Anglican churches in St. Catherines by the time of his death in 1906.  To help me determine which one might have his death record, I telephoned Victoria Lawn Cemetery, where he is buried.  The secretary was very helpful.  She informed me that Robert Dodds’ interment was handled by MacIntyre Funeral Home, and “Rev. R. Kerr” was the pastor who performed the services.  A quick Google search shows that Rev. Robert Kerr (or Ker) was the rector of St. George Anglican Church in St. Catharines.  A bit more digging revealed that burial records from St. George have been microfilmed and are available from the archive at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.  I contacted them immediately to inquire about obtaining a look-up.

And that was when “real life” and other research pulled me away, and I put my Dodds line on the back burner again.  I wrote that e-mail to the archivists at McMaster University back on 4 September 2014, almost two years ago.  Almost immediately, I received one of those standard, “thank you for your inquiry, one of our archivists will be in touch with you shortly,” e-mails, and then nothing further.  I didn’t think about it again (obviously!) until just recently.  Flash forward to earlier this week, when something made me look back at my Dodds research.  In reviewing my notes, I realized that I’d never received a reply from the archivist at McMaster.  So I wrote to them again, mentioning my previous e-mail from September of 2014.

Lo, and behold!  I received a reply from a library assistant, informing me that one of the archivists, Bridget Whittle, had replied to me back in 2014, but the e-mail was sent accidentally to the Research Help department. She forwarded Bridget’s old e-mail to me:

“Your email was forwarded to us here in the Archives. Thank you for your inquiry. I’ve had a look at St. George’s Church in St. Catharine’s and there was no burial record for Robert Dodds in 1905 or the surrounding years. Is it possible it was a different church in St. Catharine’s?”5

How about that?  She’d actually taken the time to review the microfilm for me, no charge!

I wrote back to her to explain the conversation with the cemetery office at Victoria Lawn, and wondered if perhaps Rev. Robert Kerr ministered at more than one parish in St. Catharines, which might account for the lack of burial record at St. George.  Bridget replied,

“Given the information you received from Victoria Lawn Cemetery, it really does sound like it should be St. George’s to me. I checked again, just to be certain that I hadn’t missed it somehow, but he’s definitely not there.

I checked all the other churches in St. Catharines that had burial records for that time and didn’t see Robert Dodds in any of them (or records suggesting that Robert Kerr was performing services there). I’m not certain whether this means that for some reason the entry was never made or if there is some other place it might be. I have checked the vestry records for the time as well as a miscellaneous file in the hopes that there would be something, but again, came up short.

While all this is unfortunate, I’m afraid that for the names of his parents, you wouldn’t be likely to get it from the burial record anyway. I know you said you were having a hard time tracking down his marriage record, but that would be more likely to have the information.

Do you know if he was married in St. Catharines? Around 1840 is pretty sparse record wise, but I would be happy to have a look if you know the city he was married in.5

Wow!  It just makes my day to encounter someone so wonderfully helpful.  Of course I replied with more information regarding my search for their marriage record.  Bridget’s response was both thoughtful and on-point:

Thanks for going through all of those details. I can see why you’re running out of options. Based on your information I checked a few of the other churches (namely the one in Grantham and a few that are now part of St. Catharines, but were not at the time). Frustratingly, I’ve still come up with nothing new. I was hoping I might catch a baptismal record for Hannah, at least so that we knew we were on the right track, but still nothing.

I have put a call into the Archivist for the Niagara Diocese, Archdeacon Rathbone, to see if we can figure out how it is that all of that information about Robert Dodds can be recorded at the cemetery and then not show up in the burial register. He’s away today, but I’ll let you know what I come up with.

The records we have here don’t go as far east as Yarmouth, East Elgin. That falls under the Diocese of Huron. If you haven’t been in touch with them already, you can reach them here:  http://diohuron.org/what/HR/archives.php

You probably know this already, but the Methodist church in Canada merged with a few others to become the United Church. If you go hunting for the Dodds’ under the Methodist connections, you’ll want to get in touch with them:  http://www.united-church.ca/leadership/church-administration/united-church-canada-archives

And good grief! I see what you mean about that 1901 census. I’m inclined to agree that it’s Jany [the month of Robert Dodds’ birth], but it’s a shame that it is so difficult to read (and that the UK census doesn’t go back that far).  I will let you know what the Archdeacon has to say. Hopefully he’ll have some other lead.5

 

So what are the take-home messages in all of this?

 1. Keep good research notes.

You never know when life is going to intervene and you might have to put down your research for a while.  As long as you have good notes, it should be easy to pick up again when you’re ready.

2. Follow up with all your leads (even if it’s two years later).

E-mails do get lost sometimes.  If you don’t hear from someone for a while, don’t assume he or she was ignoring you.

3.  Be sure to reach out to the librarians and archivists in the geographic areas in which you’re searching.

They are a fantastic resource — typically knowledgeable about the history of the area in addition to knowing what records, maps, finding aids, and reference works are available, and where to look for them.  Nothing beats local knowledge.  The search may continue for my elusive Robert and Catherine Dodds, but at least it’s nice to know that I’ve got some allies in my quest.

Sources:

  1.  New York, Department of Health, Division of Vital Statistics, County of Erie, City of Buffalo, Death Certificates, 1935, #4549, Death Certificate for Martha Dodds Walsh.
  2. Death record for Hannah Dodds Carty, eldest daughter of Robert and Catherine Dodds (click link for details and image).
  3. Per information at the parent website (http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~onglenga/), this index was created from, “‘St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church,’ (aka the Rev. John Bethune records); Williamstown, Charlottenburgh Twp., Glengarry, Ontario. Transcript by Dr. K. A. Taylor Registers of births, marriages and burials: 1779-1914 (original and typescript versions). MS 107 Reel 1.  File contains transcriptions from 1779 up to 1839 with a couple of gaps.”
  4. Whitehead, Karen.  “RE:  [Cemetery] Availability of Church Records.” Message to the author from unioncemetery.uucc@gmail.com.  4 Sept. 2014.  Email.
  5.  Whittle, Bridget.  “RE:  Question submitted through Ask a Librarian chat.”  Message to the author from archives@mcmaster.ca. 3 Aug. 2016.  Email.
  6.  Featured image:  Gordon, Bruce. Photo of St. Andrews United Church Cemetery. Digital image.Find A Grave. Find A Grave, Inc., 1 Sept. 2014. Web. 4 Aug. 2016.

 

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016