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

Myrtle Melissa Brown, Nursing Sister

Canadian nurses with wounded soldiers
Image: Canadian nurses with wounded soldiers (Provincial Archives of Alberta [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons)

Myrtle Melissa Brown, a graduate nurse, enlisted with Canadian Army Medical Care (CAMC) on 24 March 1917 as a Nursing Sister. She was one of thirty-one nursing sisters from Grey County (1), and among the eighteen who had graduated from the Owen Sound Collegiate Institute. (2)

Myrtle was from a farming family in Derby Township near Owen Sound, the eldest daughter of Melissa Brown and Samuel Horton Brown. Her grandparents were John Fleming and Margaret Robertson of Kilsyth and her great grandparents Alexander Fleming and Jean (Stewart).

Born 22 Jul 1889, Myrtle was described in the Attestation Paper as twenty-eight years old, 5’ 3” in height, 116 pounds in weight, and with grey eyes. She was a Disciple (Church of Christ) by faith.(3)

This excerpt from “The First World War’s nursing sisters,” Canadian Nurse provides some background.(4)

In total, 3,141 nurses served from 1914 into the early 1920s, with more than 2,500 seeing duty overseas. Trained nurses before the war, almost all of them came from hospitals, universities and medical professions from across Canada and the United States. All were women. Most were single and between the ages of 21 and 38; the average age was 24. They were all were volunteers, and there was never a shortage. For example, when a call was made in January 1915 to fill 75 positions, 2,000 nurses applied.

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Owen Sound in the 1850s

Jennie Fleming, the youngest of the Fleming family who settled in 1850 at Kilsyth, Derby Township, had deep memories of her pioneer days.

“As a frequent visitor in the early days to Owen Sound, Derby’s market place, she saw this hamlet on the arm of Georgian Bay grown from a little village of Sydenham into the thriving commercial town and city of Owen Sound. She sometimes recalled the fact that at first on entering the town she had to cross the Sydenham River on a log where the Second Avenue bridge [sic] now stands, and walk deep in mire on the main part of Poulett Street.”(1) [Roy Fleming, 1942]

Roy Fleming more than once recalled that in Owen Sound’s early days his Aunt Jennie crossed the Sydenham River by traversing – very carefully, we might surmise – a felled log, and then in town having to deal with the muck of the main street. One can imagine Jennie, a vital woman who lived into her nineties, reflecting on the changes she had witnessed since her arrival to the forested wilderness – walking long distances as a teenager, driving horse-drawn buggies on gravel-covered roads in her twenties, travelling by express trains to Toronto in her seventies.

Felled trees probably served as bridges in more than one spot – and in those years the tree could be at least three feet in width and easily tall enough to reach from bank to bank.  In 1841, according to Paul White in Owen Sound: The Port City, it was possible to cross the Sydenham River on the west side of town by tree. He wrote, “The only easily accessible crossing was to the south of the new community, at the present day site of the mill dam on 2nd Avenue West. Here, a tree had been felled and travellers could pass over the river by walking on the bridge created by the fallen log.”  (2)

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Laird of Cragganfearn

Cragganfearn, Logierait Parish, Scotland in 2018. Photo by Eddie Thomson
Cragganfearn, Logierait Parish, Scotland in 2018. Photo by Eddie Thomson (https://www.heartlandtours.co.uk/)

Many families have a story from the past that takes on mythic qualities in the retelling. In genealogy, however, it is important to examine the story critically and evaluate the evidence. (1)

The Fleming family’s story has been about the “laird of Cragganfearn”,  the belief that Alexander Fleming’s grandfather had been “laird of Cragganfearn”, an estate of some 260 acres in the central part of the Atholl region of Perthshire. As the story goes, Alexander Fleming’s father, John, met his future wife Janet Ross at Cragganfearn where she was a servant. John’s father, the laird, banned the marriage and disinherited his son when John disobeyed. Very romantic, but how much is true? To be a laird means owning a substantial estate. Did a Fleming own that estate?

Others have wondered. In 2006 there was a heated thread at Rootschat in which three Fleming descendants sought information about the laird. One respondent (not a descendant) with the handle Tickle pointed out that the entire area had been owned by the Duke of Atholl in the 1700s, and that rental records at the Blair Estate in Blair Atholl (north of Logierait and Cragganfearn) would have the answer.

We examine the sources of this story, the information itself, and the evidence from land records and other accounts. We will see that the “lairdship” story began as wishful thinkin and continued thus. Continue reading

Home to Perthshire: July 11 – July 23, 1903

After a long day’s journey across Scotland, Roy Fleming, his Aunt Jennie, his Uncle James and his cousin Minnie arrived in Dunkeld, Perthshire, 11 July 1903.

We land at Dunkeld 8:10+. Bella and Jeannie Smith are there to meet us. Send our grips down to Mrs. Duff’s with Mr. Fisher, and we six walk down and call at Smith’s house where we are welcomed. [From Roy’s Journal]

The Smiths were relatives on the Stewart side – Roy’s father’s mother. Jean Stewart’s sister Margaret married Alexander Robertson, and their daughter Elizabeth married Hugh Smith. Roy said of Elizabeth – “Mrs Smith is very much like Aunt Jessie [Jessie Agnew]– inclined perhaps to be a little more jokey.” Bella and Jeannie, delightful young women of 26 and 24 years, were Mrs. Smith’s (Elizabeth’s) daughters – Jeannie was a bookkeeper and Bella “a 1st assistant in P.O and a telegraph operator”. Roy later praised Bella to his cousin C.A. Fleming in Owen Sound as “handsome, clever and bright” and “the most genteel person” he met in Scotland. (Perhaps Roy was smitten.)(1)  Tom and Andrew, who are often mentioned in the journal, were young men of 25 and 21 years, both employed as blacksmiths. (There were three other daughters: Margaret, Jessie, and Elizabeth). (2)

The next day, the Flemings joined the Smith family at the Sunday service in the Dunkeld Cathedral, and repaired to the Smiths afterwards. They would spend the next ten days, until July 23, touring old family haunts, visiting relatives and friends, walking the hills of Perthshire, and absorbing every moment.

Dunkeld Bridge, July 1903, photo taken by Roy Fleming
Dunkeld Bridge over the Tay River, photo taken by Roy Fleming, July 1903 (Fleming Family Papers)

They were staying at Mrs. Duff’s on Atholl Street in Dunkeld. During their stay, James told the story that when he was a schoolboy he had been egged on to fight Duff – he refused until Duff called him a coward. Later Mrs. Duff, rather than scolding James, gave him “a piece of head cheese and oat bannock and asked him not to hurt her boy anymore.” Might this family have been related to the “young Duff” James had known?

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Touring Robbie Burns’ Country

Previous blog postings introduced The Trip of a Lifetime that the Flemings took in 1903 to the British Isles and Europe and described their ocean voyage on the R.M.S. Tunisian. In this posting, we follow them in their pilgrimage to Ayrshire, land of Robbie Burns; a quick trip to Belfast; and a tour through Loch Lomand and the Trossachs. Many thrills lay ahead for Roy, his cousin Minnie, their Aunt Jennie, and James (Minnie’s father, Jennie’s brother), as they visited places they had read about in literature and Scottish histories.

They travelled at a pace so dauntingly fast it would challenge young people today, let alone more senior-aged travellers like Jennie and James. On arrival in Liverpool, July 6, 1903, the Flemings moved quickly, taking a cab to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Station on Lime Street in the centre of town. Not a moment to waste, they visited St George’s Hall and Walker’s Art Gallery (where they noted the statues of Michelangelo and Raphael at the entrance), before boarding the London and North Western Railway to head north to Robbie Burns’ country. With their luggage – we hope they were travelling light – they changed trains in Carlisle to the Glasgow, Dumfries and Carlisle Railway, which passed through Gretna Green (famous for “runaway marriages”), and arrived in Dumfries at 7 pm that evening. After finding their hotel – the Palmer’s Temperance Hotel – and seemingly energized, they went for a walk around town – for Dumfries was where Robert Burns had lived his last three years.

Palmer's Temperance Hotel, Dumfries
Palmer’s Temperance Hotel, Dumfries

Jennie found Dumfries a “beautiful clean city – streets so pretty and clean and situated on the Nigh River.” They came upon the Globe Inn where Burns used to drink. Jennie did not dare to enter, but Roy and James did and James, sitting in Burn’s chair, sang a stanza of “Willie brewed a peck o’ malt”. They made their way through narrow, crooked streets to 16 Burns Street where Mrs. Brown, Burns’s granddaughter, showed them the house in which he had died in 1796.

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R.M.S. Tunisian – Montreal to Liverpool – June 27 to July 6, 1903

R.M.S. Tunisian - postcard postmarked Sarnia June 25, 2003
R.M.S. Tunisian – postcard 1903.  Courtesy Simplon Postcards, The Passenger Ship Website

Boarding in Montreal, the Fleming party settled into their quarters on the Tunisian at 7:30 pm Friday, June 26. Roy noted – “We put baggage in our rooms. Mine is Room 126 Berth 2, Uncle James 126-4. Aunt Jennie 128 – 2 – Minnie 128-4.” They were on the Upper Deck, in cabins on the outside wall. The Saloon Deck with the dining, music, and smoking saloons for second class and first class was above. The two top decks were the Bridge for First Class and the Promenade deck .

The Norway Heritage website has a full history of the Tunisian with postcards and the cabin floor plan.

With advances in steamer technology and ship design, travelling to Great Britain and the continent had become more comfortable and increasingly fashionable. They were travelling second (cabin) class in rooms that accommodated four people. Roy immediately remarked, “Rather neat appearance of rooms and dining rooms. Music Room and Smoking Room.”

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