Fleming Migration to the United States

Jean Agnew (1862–1950) and her cousin Robert Fleming (1860–1894) were the first two of the Fleming families in Kilsyth to emigrate to the United States. Over the fifty-year period 1880 to 1930, 22 of Alexander Fleming and Jean Stewart’s 70 grandchildren (33%) left Derby Township to try life across the border. All but four stayed in the USA.  The female Flemings were as adventurous as the male – a 50/50 spit. Most were between the ages of 20 to 40. (1)

Image shows four Fleming women who lived in the United States on holiday in California, c 1910.
Outing to Ocean Park, CA. Bottom left, Minerva Fleming talking to Christina Fleming. Jean [Walmsley] on the far right. The woman behind Christina might be Jean Agnew. The men, Messrs Watson and Dury were friends of the Walmsleys. c. 1910 (Source: Fleming Family Photos)

The United States was a magnate for young people seeking better prospects for education, employment and income. The late 1860s to 1896 was the Gilded Age of rapid economic growth, technological invention, and industrial production. Hydroelectricity powered new factories. Cities in the East attracted new immigrants, and the West offered land and gold. Toronto, in 1891, with a population of 181,000, was small compared to the closest U.S. cities: Buffalo at 254,000, Detroit at 205,000, and Philadelphia at over one million.

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Flemings of Derby Township – Prepublication

Good news – the family history about the Flemings of Derby Township is nearly ready for the printer.  We expect to ship the book in early October 2022.

The book is a comprehensive account of the family of Alexander Fleming and Jean Stewart who emigrated from Perthshire to Canada West in 1843 and settled in Derby Township, Grey County, in 1850. Their stories show the spirit and resolve of the Scottish migrants to shape lives with more opportunities for their children. This narrative describes the Flemings’ Scottish roots, the perils of emigration, pioneering life in Derby Township, Grey County, and the lives of their nine children and grandchildren around the turn of the century as they undertook new travels and challenges.

Sources include Ruth (Fleming) Larmour’s extensive collection of stories and papers, contributions by other Fleming descendants, genealogical records, land records, and many other historical sources in archives and libraries. This wealth of information led to a large book that is richly illustrated, extensively sourced, and complete with name index and subject index. The table of contents will provide a view of the coverage in this book.

This is a limited (and numbered) edition with a pre-publication price of $70 Canadian (plus shipping if needed) payable by cheque or etransfer. Please order by August 8 (changed from July 25, 2022), if you would like a copy at this favourable price.

Why would you buy this book?

  • Alexander Fleming and Jean Stewart are in your family tree.
  • One of your ancestors came to Canada from the Scottish Highlands in the 1800s.
  • You would like to learn more about the Fleming Family of Kilsyth and Owen Sound, Grey County.
  • You are interested in pioneer life in Ontario in the 1800s.
  • Your family lived in Vaughan Township, Derby Township, or Owen Sound in the 1800s.
  • You enjoy reading family histories with illustrations and personal accounts from the times.

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Roy F. Fleming: Writings about First Nations

Teacher, artist, photographer, historian, researcher— of these pursuits Roy may have loved the study of history the most.

Born in Kilsyth, Derby Township, in 1878, son of Charles Fleming and grandson of Alexander Fleming, Roy Franklin Fleming  (1878-1958) had deep roots in Grey County where the Fleming family were pioneering settlers in the 1850s. He was almost destined to become an educationist— a specialist in education as he described himself— due to the Fleming family’s attention to education.

After formative years in the Normal School system in Ontario and several teaching assignments, Roy enrolled in the New York School of Art in 1905. Two years later (1907) he was appointed drawing master at the Ottawa Model School (later Ottawa Normal School).  For many, this might have been sufficient, but Roy’s intense interest in the history of Ontario and especially in the Great Lakes and the indigenous people led him into many other endeavours.

His love of history began with a childhood filled with stories about the Scottish homeland and the emigration to Canada. As a young teacher in Sheguiandah, Manitoulin Island in 1899, his curiosity about local history and native peoples deepened as he came to know the Assiginack family—Blackbird in English. In the years following he undertook further research to write about the oratorical skills and military genius of Sahgimah and Assiginack and bring recognition to both.

In January 1935 The Daily Sun Times published his long article—“Ottawas Defeated Invading Mohawks at Blue Mountain”—with the lengthy  subtitle “Contingent of Warriors from Owen Sound, Saugeen, and Meaford Indian Villages Aided  Ottawas and Objibways (sic)  of Manitoulin Island Massacre Invading Iroquois —Chief Sahgimah Led Indians of This District in Bloody Battle.” (1)

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Robbie Burns Day –January 25

Robert Burns
Robert Burns – image from BBC Robert Burns

Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursel’s as others see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
And e’en devotion!

To A Louse ( On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church)”  Robert Burns 1786.  
From the Ontario Reader: The High School Reader 1886 (1)

Everyone of Scottish descent in nineteenth-century Canada would have known some lines from Robert Burns. My Heart’s in the Highlands (1789) would have been a favourite for the Flemings, whose Scottish homeland was Perthshire in the Highlands.

My heart’s in the Highlands, my heart is not here;
My heart’s in the Highlands a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild-deer, and following the roe,
My heart’s in the Highlands wherever I go.

Burns’s Night

The Fleming family would surely have celebrated Robert Burns’s birthday on January 25. To this day members of the Scottish diaspora (and their associates) around the world gather for an evening of bagpipes, music, highland dance, recitation of Burns’s poems, and the traditional dinner of haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). A Scottish friend has provided this account of the event.

The haggis is piped in, borne aloft and accompanied by various officials and dignitaries and the Whisky Bearer. Then the Maister o’ Ceremonies intones 

“My lords, ladies and gentlemen! Pray silence for our Haggis Maister Scottie MacKiltface who will salute our guest-of-honour before disemboweling it with the dirk tucked neatly into his right-legged Highland hose.”

Picture of haggis on a serving plate being pierced by a dagger. Drams of whiskey are in four small glasses nearby.
Cutting the Haggis (2)

Address to a Haggis:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.


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All Hallow’s Eve, A Celtic Tradition

Did the Fleming families, who settled near Kilsyth, Derby Township, in the mid-1800s, partake in the Scottish tradition of All Hallow’s Eve?  Hard to know.  There is no mention of Halloween in family papers. As Disciples of Christ, they would have disapproved of pagan practices of ghouls and ghosts and the connection to the occult. But they may have retained something of the “All Saints” day on November 1 to remember the departed faithful.

Modern day, inflated plastic pumpkin - lawn ornament. 2021
Inflated plastic, artificially lit pumpkin 2021

We may think of Halloween as a North American excuse for spooky lawn decorations, jack o’lantern competitions, and costume dress-up for children going from door to door to get candy.  But Halloween has been much more, with traditions of bonfires and spirits more frightening than the inflated, lit, plastic ghosts we see today.

Halloween has its origins in Samhain (pronounced SAH-wane), a Celtic festival at the end of October when the spirit world became visible. The celebration marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter and was an occasion to commune with the Otherworld – when spirits and faeries and the souls of the dead mixed with the living. Big bonfires kept people safe from the visiting evil spirits. Lanterns were fashioned by hollowing out turnips, carving scary features, and placing a lit candle inside to cast light and safety.  Children, to hide from the spirits, would go “guising” in costumes undercover as the malicious ones. Adults might do the same.  A song or a trick or just knocking on a neighbour’s door might earn them a treat.  For a game, they might bob for apples. (1,2,3)

Robert Burns recognized Halloween in his poem of that name in 1785. The first verse (in English translation) caught the night’s excitement of moonlight and movement.

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Ontario Township Papers ca 1783-1870

Announcements of newly digitized archival materials are always a pleasant surprise. In November 2020 genealogy blogs active in Ontario publicized that Family Search had loaded the Township Papers  ca 1783-1870 for the Province of Ontario held  on reels of  microfilm at the Archives of Ontario. These reels consist of a mélange of land-related documents not filed elsewhere. Archives of Ontario described  them as follows:

… copies of orders-in-council; copies of location certificates and location tickets; copies of assignments; certificates verifying the completion of settlement duties; copies of receipt; copies of descriptions; and copies of patents; and copies of incoming correspondence.

Township Papers – Archives of Ontario

My objective was to see what can be found about the Fleming families who pioneered in Derby Township, Grey County in the 1850s.

The papers are organized alphabetically by township.  Access at Family Search is through these two links.

We begin with Derby Township, identified on two lines on the image below. Click on the camera icon to view a gallery of images for the letters of that township organized by concession and lot.

UPDATE 12 April 2021 – I explored the Derby Township papers in late March. On preparing this blog post I found that townships from D to Haldimand had been dropped. This is probably a temporary glitch. Hopefully, your interest will be in one of the other townships.

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A Trip of a Lifetime

Canadian News Editors Party at Entrance to Westminster Hall, June 1924. Photo from Pilgrims of the Press.
Canadian News Editors at Entrance to Westminster Hall, June 1924. Photo from Pilgrims of the Press.

At long last, Christopher Alexander (C.A.) Fleming, educator and publisher in Owen Sound,  Ontario, was embarking on a voyage to the United Kingdom. The year was 1924 when Europe was rebuilding after the war of 1914-18.  Roy Fleming, his cousin, had emphatically recommended such a trip after his own in 1903.

C.A. – you know you are rich – you might cease from your labors for two months and take a trip to the Old Country and see these places – see that land of true beauty and sweet traditions – the land of your fathers,  which age will never dim. [Letter  dated  14 October 1903]

Arranged by the Canadian Weekly Press Association for editors of weekly newspapers, the tour covered Belgium, Paris, and the major cities in the United Kingdom.  There were 171 individuals in the party, of whom 101 were associated with some 100 weekly Canadian newspapers. Of these editors, 83 were men and 18 women. Seventy family members travelled with them. Many of the editors were from Ontario, and smaller numbers from the Atlantic provinces and the West. [Davies, “Who’s Who”]  

C.A. owned  the Daily Sun-Times and the weekly Cornwall Freeholder. His eldest daughter, Lillian, who was 37 and a kindergarten teacher, accompanied him on a trip that became the highlight of her life – especially the garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Over the eight weeks, C.A. mailed letters to the Daily Sun-Times with reports on the social events and the places – the streets, the people, the exhibits and tours. These were dense with descriptions of the farmlands and industrial sites and attentive to points that his Grey County readers would appreciate. He later published his reports as a collection in  Letters from Europe.

W. Rupert Davies, of The Renfrew Mercury in Renfrew, Ontario, and former president of the Association, organized the itinerary and meetings with dignitaries and press associations. He published his account in Pilgrims of the Press, in which he explained that this endeavor was to be  “an educational tour with the idea, not only of establishing a closer relationship between the weekly editors of Canada and the newspaper fraternity of the Old Land, but in order that we should all get first-hand knowledge of the Mother Country and some of its problems.” [Davies, p. 3] (Davies, who many years later was appointed to the Canadian Senate, brought his wife Florence  McKay and their son Robertson – the Robertson Davies who grew up to be a journalist and acclaimed novelist.)

The idea for conducting such an ambitious tour was rooted in a strong sentiment for the British Empire. The elite of the Empire Press Union and the Newspaper Society in England provided full support and likely direction. We might surmise that their motives were to strengthen diplomatic and economic bonds between Canada and Britain. Notwithstanding that Canada had just fought for “King and Country,” Canadians were pressing instead for autonomy and independence from imperial requests.

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New York Heritage Digital Collection

Photograph of the Pan Am Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo illuminated at night with latest technology for electrical wiring.
Panoramic View of the Pan-Am Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo. NY. Source Wikimedia  (1)

Several members of the Fleming family moved to cities in New York State in the late 1800s. Researching their movements and lives has led us to the trove of the New York Heritage digital collections (https://nyheritage.org/) created by eight members of the Empire State Library Network.

Two cousins – Jean Agnew, daughter of Jessie (Fleming) Agnew, and Margaret Fleming, daughter of James Fleming –  were among the first to enter new nursing programs being started in New York State in the 1880s.

Jean Agnew arrived in Rochester NY to begin her training at the Rochester City General Hospital around 1887. The Rochester City Hospital School of Nursing, the third nursing school in New York State, opened its doors in 1880. Continue reading

Online Newspapers in Canada

Why Toronto Mothers Oppose Daylight Savings - 1923 - vintage ad
From Toronto Telegram, 31 December 1923, posted to Flickr – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jbcurio/14133682628

My favourite research source, bar none,  is the newspaper for that time and place – often  a storehouse of social announcements and background on issues and concerns. My greatest frustration arises from the huge holes in the digitization of Canadian newspapers – parts of Ontario have never been touched, and secondly, in the usually klutzy search interfaces –  access through Proquest  for the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star Archives comes to mind. Putting that aside, there is one major collection site to use as a starting point for online newspapers and one recent news item.

The Ancestor Hunt maintains a page of links to newspapers in the United States and Canada, and links to collections in Australia, Europe, and the Caribbean. It also provides thirteen lessons on best ways to search online newspapers and other informational articles.

John Reid at Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections also keeps an eye for announcements concerning digital Canadian newspapers, the latest being Canadian Newspapers on the British Newspaper Archives (14 February 2020). He reminds us that Canadiana Online and Google Newspapers also hold some publications.

Oh – would that we had a Canadian Newspaper Archives online!

Postscript 20 February 2020: The blog entry of The British Newspaper Archive – Hot Off The Press for 17 February – describes more fully their new additions of the Toronto Daily Mail, Hamilton Daily Times, and Saturday Night spanning years 1875 to 1920.  Stated reason was “these newspapers are a useful resource for people with ancestors who emigrated, whilst illuminating a time of great change and growth in the North American country.” Yes – an archive to watch – maybe they’ll add more.

A Scottish New Year

Scottish New Year Greetings.
Scottish Hogmanay Greetings.

Happy and Healthy New Year for 2020

The Scots are famous for Hogmanay – a New Year’s Eve and Day celebration for visiting and  gift-giving and certainly the singing of Auld Lang Syne by the much beloved Robert Burns and a gift of the Scots to the world.

Sadly, we have no accounts on how Alexander and Jean Fleming or any of their children celebrated the season, but, given the love Roy Fleming and his aunt Jennie Fleming had for Robbie Burns, we may safely assume they sang all the verses.

Chorus:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne (1)

Several Flemings had musical interests and were blessed with considerable talent: James and his brother William sold organs in the late 1800s in Owen Sound, Isabella Finch’s son, William, worked as “music dealer” in Brandon Manitoba, and his two sons – William Everett and Robert Lincoln – were musicians, James’s daughter Minnie became a music teacher, Charles’ daughter Annie played the piano, James great-granddaughter Nancy (Hayes) Van de Vate composed opera and orchestral works. There were surely others.

At New Year’s the Fleming families may have gathered around an organ to sing the “Hogmanay Song” by Peter Livingstone (1823-1851) written to greet the new year in the same spirit as Burns’ song but without the drams of whiskey that the temperance- abiding Flemings would have abstained from.

A guid New Year to ane an a’
And mony may you see,
An during the years that come,
O happy you may be. (2)

The Christmas of decorated trees, gifts, and feasts was not observed by the Scots until relatively recently. At the time of John Knox and the Reformation (1560), the Scottish government abolished Christmas and had no quarrel with the Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell in 1643 when  all Christmas festivities and merrymaking were banned. After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Christmas celebrations were resumed in England but not Scotland, where the Church of Scotland continued to regard everything related to Christmas as papist. Christmas celebrations were curtailed for another 400 years, and it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas Day became a public holiday in Scotland. (4,5,6)

No matter – the Scots had Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) and New Year’s Day as their time for revelry and visiting. These festivities were centuries-old, some originating with the Norse.

Victuals were prepared long in advance. Dorothy Duncan, in Canadians at Table: Food, Fellowship, and Folklore: A Culinary History of Canada, identified several popular dishes seen on Canadian tables: Black Bun – a plum cake encased in pastry, shortbread baked in a large circle and cut into wedges, oat cakes, scotch eggs – “hard-boiled eggs, peeled and wrapped in sausage meat, then rolled in crumbs and deep-fried,” and haggis served with potatoes and turnip. (7)

The Scots visited friends and family during the eve and into the next day taking with them a small, symbolic present – salt for flavour, coal or peat for warmth, shortbread for food, and a dram or two for cheer – and were warmly welcomed with food and beverage. There could be singing and dancing as part of the Ceilidh (social gathering). It mattered who was the first person after midnight to set foot across the threshold: In the tradition of “first footing,”  a tall, dark-haired man would bring good luck and prosperity, a redheaded man or a woman would bring bad luck. (4,5,6)

Ken McGoogan, author of How the Scots Invented Canada, noted the elements of fire and superstition in the celebrations:

This Scottish celebration starts on New Year’s Eve and runs through the next day and sometimes longer. Scotland’s national poet, Robbie Burns, once revelled in Hogmanay festivities that spun out of control: the house caught fire and burned to the ground, costing him both his residence and his job. Possibly this resulted from “redding the house,” a Scottish-Viking tradition that means burning juniper branches in the house until it fills with smoke, then opening the windows to cast out evil spirits. (3)

Another superstition that McCoogan offers is that, “to rid the house of bad feeling among friends or relations, you can burn branches from a rowan tree.” The Flemings may have remembered that there were two rowan trees at their Kirrandrum home in Perthshire.

References:

  1. Poets.org Auld Lang Syne by Robert Burns.
  2. A Little Book of Hogmanay by Bob Pegg (2013) Google Books
  3. “How the Scots Get Ready for the Holidays” in SavvyReader  via Archive.org (30 Nov 2010) by Ken McGoogan
  4. Scottish Christmas Traditions by Tracey Kelly (n.d.)
  5. Holidays: Hogmanay (Dec 31 – Jan 2) (n.d.) in A Song in Thy Praise: Windsor’s Scottish Heritage – Windsor Public Library.
  6. Hogmanay: A Scottish New Year Celebration by J. Winter (1 Jan 2015), in Upper Canada Scots
  7. Dorothy Duncan. Chapter 18, Canadians at Table: Food, Fellowship, and Folklore: A Culinary History of Canada. (Dundurn: September 2011) Google Books.