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 ( 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 –

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.

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.


  1. 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 (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.

Vernon’s Owen Sound City Directories

Page from Vernon's Directory for Owen Sound 1917
Page from Vernon’s Directory for Owen Sound 1917

People researching residents and businesses in Owen Sound may now go to Family Search to use digitized copies of Owen Sound Vernon city directories for the years: 1942, 1961, 1964,  1991, 1997/98, 2001/02. Search Family Search > Books ( for owen sound to see the selection. This tremendous project of the Ontario Genealogical Society is described in this announcement –  Vernon Directory Digitization Project (February 18, 2019). Let’s hope that more of the earlier years are added soon.

The 1917 Vernon directory for Owen Sound that is held by the Toronto Public Library directory has been digitized and is at both the Internet Archive and at Toronto Public Library site.

Postscript 23 Nov 2019 – Gail Dever (Genealogy à la carte) in Dozens more Ontario Vernon’s Directories on FamilySearch describes the project and briefly, the search. For example: “a free FamilySearch account is required to view each individual directory. ”

Postscript 28 Dec 2019 – Digitized years now available are: 1928, 1930,1932,1936, 1938,1940,1942, 1958, 1961,1964, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1977,1979, 1981, 1983, 1985,1987, 1989, 1991, 1993/94, 1995/96, 1997/98, 1999/2000, 2001/02, 2003/04, 2005/06.

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.

Continue reading

The Kilsyth Subdivision

Main corner in the small village of Kilsyth, Georgian Bluffs, Grey County.
Kilsyth, Grey County, ON – Corner of Grey Road 5 and Concession Rd 7. Photo by Gwen Harris 2016

A new subdivision of 33 lots may be in the future for the sleepy town of Kilsyth west of Owen Sound in the Township of Georgian Bluffs (previously  Derby Township). The proposed subdivision of 33 residential lots on  17.09 hectares takes up most of  Lot 9, Concession 7 and some adjacent town lots at the south west corner where Grey Road 5 intersects Concession 7 (known as Mill Road).   This is just “down the road” from several farms the Fleming families once held.

MAP - Airphoto of the area of the proposed Kilsyth subdivision. Source: Grey County Committee Report 8 Nov 2018 regarding Kilsyth Plan of Subdivision (Barry’s Construction) 42T-2018-11
MAP – Airphoto of the area of the proposed Kilsyth subdivision. Source: Grey County Committee Report 8 Nov 2018 regarding Kilsyth Plan of Subdivision (Barry’s Construction) 42T-2018-11

The Proposed Plan for the Kilsyth Subdivision (2018) has much to tell us about the nature of the land the Flemings farmed, the current archaeological interest, the history of Kilsyth, along with enumerating the many compliance requirements concerning water resources, land use, ecology, habitat, and cultural heritage.  It is available from – look for Kilsyth on the page.

The “Fisher Archaeological Report” contains the background study and assessment that is of greatest interest for its examination of the history, soil conditions, and archaeology of the area and includes several maps of the area and photos of farmstead and artifacts that were unearthed. Two of these area maps are shown in this blog posting.

Continue reading

News about online resources

New Online Resources
New Online Resources

A few notable news items about resources have come to my inbox from genealogy newsletters.

Continue reading

Searching For My Roots – poem by Leora Wilson

Pottawatomi River, Derby Township – George Harlow White 1874 – Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

I often think of days gone by when this land was just beginning,
And what the settlers faced each day to eke out a meager living.
They traveled here by horse and cart, no roads then would they find.
Their salvaged treasures packed in trunks, from the life they had left behind.
Did they bring a few chickens and maybe a cow from the nearest settled town?
What about their flour and other supplies? No store then could be found.
The untamed miles of wooded land would face them as they stood
And pondered how they’d ever live and where they’d find their food.
The forest towered above them, but they needed to clear the land
So they could build their homes of massive logs, and do it all by hand.
Their tools would be inadequate, a crosscut saw perhaps?
They’d need both feed and fur so they’d require hunting traps.
Fortunate were those with pristine water close at hand
Else they’d dig a well with pick and shovel and pray that they’d strike sand.
They learned to cook on a fireplace hearth to keep their family fed.
Supplies were meager for winter’s long sojourn, so it is said.
The prolonged winter would bring the snow that never seemed to end,
And winter’s blast left icy frost on the walls they needed to mend.
Their days were filled with menial tasks, fetching water and chopping wood,
Feeding the hungry fire, their only resource for heat and food.
Milking and baking and washing the floor, scrubbing the laundry clean,
Evenings brought mending and darning chores by the light of a candle’s gleam
They were to endure many weary days and endless lonely nights.
Life was fragile for the weak, confronting anguish and many plights.
The family increased nearly every year, a fact of life those days,
But they raised the children that survived and were happy in so many ways.
I think of all these things while I am searching for my roots,
And I’m proud to know that on this family tree, I’m one of its many shoots.

Submitted by Leora Wilson, great great granddaughter of Joseph Garvie and Janet Fleming.

Note added by Gwen Harris: Janet was a sister of Alexander Fleming. The Garvie and Fleming families settled in Derby Township, Grey County in the 1850s. Leora wrote this poem for a book titled Highland Legacy that Lynne Porter and she wrote about their MacKenzie-Cameron ancestors in Keppel Township, Grey County. Leora has kindly posted it to this Fleming blog.

Finding historical texts and pictures

The richness of resources on local history – and that of Ontario in particular – constantly amazes me. Today I have two starting points to recommend: the University of Calgary’s digitzation project, and a list prepared by the Toronto Public Library of resources for finding photos.

Library and Cultural Resources Digital Collections at the University of Calgary ( has a daunting number of collections – many about Alberta and some about the Arctic – even some about Japan. But the area of particular interest at present is Local Histories and Local Histories (2). Select one or both from the list and enter search terms for the subjects, people or places of interest.  The search interface provides guides to further filtering by date, subject and title.

Ourroots, the service that had digitized many Ontario historical texts, was taken over by the University of Calgary project and gradually all (or nearly all) texts have been remounted on new servers with the improved search interface. Two titles of great interest to us that are now available are: Continue reading

Progress Report

Proposed cover for book - The Flemings of Derby Township: A Family History
Proposed cover for book – The Flemings of Derby Township: A Family History

You may be wondering if the long silence at this blog means we have abandoned the Fleming Family History project. Quite the opposite.  We have been feverishly busy writing these past three months, editing, and designing, and can say with confidence that we are getting closer to print. The “we” means a team of six: family historian and sponsor (Ruth (Fleming) Larmour), writer (Gwen Harris), two editors, book designer, and printer. As well, some Fleming descendants have been assisting in reviewing sections. The book designer has determined the layout and design, and we have overcome major issues with the quality of images and handling of endnotes. Twenty-one of the twenty-three chapters have now been written, reviewed and edited – about 10% of Flemings of Derby Township: A Family History remains to be written.  We don’t have a definite launch date yet but are hoping for late summer, early fall. The book will be available through this website. The project plan also includes revamping this site because we will have more content to add, more to share, more to learn from readers and commenters, and more time to do it.

Continue reading