Sunday, April 2, 2017

Family Legends

Philip Halls "Pip" portrait in uniformIt seems that every family has someone who stood out from the crowd, whose name is talked about long after they are gone.  In my branch of the Halls family that person is Philip Ashley Patrick Halls, but I think mostly he was called Pip.

Why is Pip a legend?  I think some of it has to do with his personality, part of it has to do with the fact that he was not yet thirty when he died, and part of it is how he died, far from home on battlefield in Italy, fighting against one of the worst tyrannies the world has yet seen.

Pip was born on April 2, 1915 in Toronto, Ontario.  He was the son of Fred Halls, a locally well know paper magnate and philanthropist, and Kate McGill, a girl from Gravenhurst.

Pip enlisted in the Canadian Army on Sep 8, 1940 and was assigned to the Victoria Rifles for his training, some of which took place in British Columbia.  After his training he was sent to Newfoundland from December of 1940 to August of 1941 acting, with the rest of the Victoria Rifles, as garrison troops against any threat from the Nazis.  After August he was transferred back to Canada for more training, and then in October of 1942 he arrived in Sussex in England.

Excerpt from Interview after enlistmentWe can see from his pictures that he was good looking.  From what little I know, he was charismatic and made a good impression on people.  During an interview some time after he enlisted the interviewing officer stated that Pip was a, "Bright, intelligent, good looking N.C.O.1  Thinks R.C.A.2 would be more interesting.  If sent to the field unit he will quickly adapt himself and become interested in his platoon, or section."  The final line was typewritten and stated "Recommended as possible officer candidate - 52/Off Sel/1 - 20 May 43"

I should point out that much as Pip impressed people around him, he was by no means a saint.  He was docked pay for barracks damage the day after he was discharged from the Esquimalt Military Hospital.  There are two incidents of his being AWOL as well.  One of them was while he was stationed in BC on Oct 13th, 1941, and he was only gone for 8 hours.  The second time was in the UK, when he was absent from Jan 28th to 31st, 1943.

In July of 1943 he was with the Carleton and York Regiment.  I have been unable to determine at this point whether he landed on the beaches of Sicily with the first wave of Canadian troops in Operation Husky or if he came ashore the day after the main landings.  In October of 1943 he was transferred to the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR).

Letter from Red Cross
In January of 1944 the family was given a scare when it was reported that Pip was a casualty due to the collapse of a tower on December 31st/Jan 1st, which had been hit by artillery fire.  The telegram received by the family on Jan 28th did not indicate whether Pip was killed or injured.  However, the family had already received a cable (on Jan 13th) from Pip stating that he was fine.  At this point Fred pulled some strings by contacting Mrs. H. P. Plumptre and set off a small storm in the Red Cross and the Army trying to find out what had happened to his son.  It turn out Pip had been slightly injured, and might have had an intestinal upset into the bargain.

Pip remained with the RCR until the end, which for him came on September 16th, 1944, during the fighting to secure the Rimini airfield.  He is buried in the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery, grave 11, row E, plot 1.

Philip Halls "Pip" sitting on a stone wallAfter the war his sister, Frances Catherine Gorman wrote to inquire about the location of his grave.  I find it a bit odd as one assumes her parents. Fred and Kate would have known.  Perhaps she was planning a trip to Italy and wished to be sure she knew where to find the grave.

Pip's memory continued to be passed around in the Halls family.  My father received his medals.  Pip's dog tags were sent to his father, Fred, so someone probably has them even now.  The same can be said for the Memorial Cross (Silver Cross) that Kate, his mother, should have received after Pip died.

I read a letter to the editor written by Susan Riggs in November of 20103.  As with me, he was her great-uncle, someone we never knew.  He simply would have been a name and a face, and yet, for many of us, he is remembered in an idyllic, idealistic sort of way.  The young man who gave his life to defeat the Nazi tyranny.  The young man, sitting on a stone wall, grinning, while waiting to go out and maybe shoot some squirrels or ducks at Pleasant Point, the family cottage.

1. N.C.O. - Non-Commissioned Officer, i.e., sergeants and below
2. R.C.A. - Royal Canadian Artillery.  Pip wanted to be an anti-aircraft gunner.
3. The article her letter was written in response to can be found here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Hints of Personality

One of the most frustrating things to deal with in genealogy is the lack of a human dimension for the people in a tree.  For that reason finding a hint of what a person was like is a precious gift.

I was recently searching for information on Mrs. William Halls (Emma Tanton) of Dolton, Devon, when I came across information on her husband, William Halls.  I had known that the family was religious, having converted from being Anglican to being Bible Christians, and I knew that the times were more religious than our own current time but I was not expecting what I found on page 283 of the 1869 edition of The Bible Christian Magazine, a very short snippet about William Halls offering the opening prayer at the Sabbath School Conference in Hatherleigh, "The conference was opened with singing and prayer, the latter being offered with peculiar fervour and power by Mr W. Halls."

That was it.  A precious glimpse of the kind of person William Halls was.  Involved in his church community.  A notable speaker.  And more devout than might be expected of the time and place.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Ontario Genealogical Society Webinars

Today on Facebook in the Huron County Genealogy group I saw a call for webinar topics for the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS) for 2015, and it got me to thinking.  The webinars made me wonder about getting a membership, which in turn got me looking into the advantages of membership, such as resources available.  It also made me try to find the call for topics on the OGS site  In my opinion, the OGS is making some errors.

Let's start with the webinars.  You must be a member to join a live webinar, or to view an archived webinar.  The cost of a one year membership is just over $60.  This means that if I was only interested in the single webinar it would cost me the same as a one year membership.  I understand there may be a reason or reasons they only want members to participate in a live webinar, but restricting archived webinars to members only is self defeating.  Archived webinars should be available to anybody for a small fee, say between $2 and $5.  The OGS could easily allow people to pay through a service like PayPal.  Allowing anyone to access an archived webinar makes genealogy more accessible to all, especially people who are younger.  The same process/logic can be applied to the live webinars too, and unless there is a very strong reason not to make the live webinars available on a pay per view basis I would recommend allowing it.  The advantage to the OGS of charging a small fee for the webinars is that it will make money.  Another advantage to the OGS and the wider genealogical community is that by example it will raise the standards for research, allowing more accurate information to be presented by the wider genealogical community.

I found memberships with the OGS rather odd too.  An individual must join for a calendar year, there is no pro-rating, and the partial membership option charges for just more than half a year, even if you will only use it for two and a half months.  The availability of the partial membership makes it look like if you join in April you pay for an entire year.  From a technical point of view there is no excuse for not pro-rating membership, even if the OGS wishes to have all memberships renewed every January.  From a practical point of view the OGS is foregoing revenues, making it more difficult for people who wish to explore Ontario genealogy, and discouraging people from even joining due to the fee structure.  There are large numbers of Membership Management softwares available that are both free and open source.  One that I have seen mentioned a number of times is called Wild Apricot and is based in Toronto.  Incidentally, that's not an endorsement.  I simply saw it mentioned in several "best software lists".

The resources that the OGS offers to members are rather hard to evaluate, as the only way you can see the resource(s) available online is to become a member.  For example their databases that can be searched only by members.  But what are the databases?  BMD notices from newspapers and books?  If so which books/newspapers?  Strays from Ontario?  Cemetery transcriptions?  There is no list so there is no way to tell.  There is both a newsletter and a journal, but once again no information about the contents of either.  It would not be terribly difficult to post at least the table of contents from the most recent journal issues, and work back to older issues non electronic issues as time and resources permit.  As for why the newsletter is available only to members I am at a loss.  As it is like most newsletters it is about events that are coming up, member profiles, etc, just the sort of thing you want people to know to encourage them to join or otherwise become involved.  Some of the resources available to members are just plain mysterious.  Exactly what is "Families"  What are the member forms and resources?  And why is the message board completely private?  Even if they don't want non-members to post that is no excuse to keep the posts themselves private.

The OGS could do itself, and genealogists with an interest in Ontario a great service by simply by describing the resources available, and making more available, even at a small fee.  By doing so they would both increase their revenues, make Ontario genealogy more approachable to the novice and veteran alike, and increase their membership.  Currently the OGS website does not make the OGS come across as an organization that is welcoming and friendly.  While the OGS should make its own "brand", it could also take some pointers from the layout and resource availability of the Devon Family History Society.

Finally, the 2015 webinar call for submissions?  I never did find a link to it on the OGS website, but you may download the form here.  the deadline is tomorrow, Aug 15, 2014.

England - Part 1, Devon

I went on holiday to England just a few weeks back, and spent a week in Exeter, Devon, and a week in London.  Unfortunately I did not get much time to do genealogy.  I spent about 1.5 hours at the Devon Family History Society Tree House, where I was able to get a copy of a map, and a few hints.  The most important hint was about people who came into the "social welfare" system of mid nineteenth century England.  Apparently one would be interviewed before being granted money.  The purpose of the interview was to determine if you were really a resident of the parish.  If you weren't, then you were sent packing, i.e., "We don't need to pay for you, ask someone else."  Some things never change.

At any rate, these interviews, removal interviews, told significant amounts about the individual - name, birth-date, birthplace, names and birth-dates/places of any children, information about a spouse, places one had lived, etc.  Getting a copy of the removal interview for Mary Seldon who was the wife of John Halls, would help determine who was related to who, and how John fits into the larger Halls family from the Merton area.

I had hoped to get to Merton, but was unable to rent a car, due mostly to my nervousness about driving on the left of the road.  I could have arranged a car rental, but it would have involved driving through downtown Exeter during rush hour, which was not what I wanted my first experience with driving in England to be.  Granted it could have been worse, I might have wanted to drive in London.  The take away lesson is to arrange my car rental before I leave Canada.

My family and I did the tourist thing in south Devon.  We went to Exmouth and did a cruise along the coast.  We visited Plymouth, which is a beautiful city from what I saw.  We did a cruise on the Tamar to Morwellham Quay, site of the Edwardian Farm tv show.

Exeter is vastly underrated.  The city wall, which is still 90% complete dates back to when Exeter was a Roman city, the cathedral dates to the 1100's.  There are mediaeval tunnels under portions of the area around the cathedral.  I took the tour of the tunnels, and when I was reviewing the pictures I had taken I found bones.  This was something of a shock because the tunnels are not advertised as having being used for burials, much less being told we might find bones scattered on the floors.  Given the age, it wouldn't surprise me though.

Overall visiting Devon was a wonderful time, my only regret being unable to spend a day in the Merton/Meeth/Dolton area.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Who Are We: The North Dakota Halls Family

This post is going to be rather long, so grab a beverage of your choice, sit back, and enjoy (hopefully) the explanation of how I link everyone together.

Over the past few months I received two sets of photos from separate researchers who were tracing aspects of the North Dakota branch of the Halls family.  One set of photos were from descendants of  John and Annie Halls adopted children, and was composed of casual snapshots of John, Annie, Alva, Jean, and their spouses and children.  The other set were from a direct descendant of Alva's sister, Aressa.  It was the wedding album of Alva and Aressa's parents, William Halls and Annie Myles/Miles.  Some of the photos from the wedding album were not identified, or were incompletely identified.  The two sets of photos together, along with some online detective work, allowed me to assign names to everyone with reasonable certainty.

First the photos.

Photo 1
Identity:  Unidentified Older Couple
Source:  William Halls Wedding Album
Location: Unknown
Type:  Photo on cardstock (CDV or Cabinet Card)
Date Taken:  Unknown, but there are multiple clues.  The woman is wearing an outfit with fairly tight sleeves.  Her hair is elaborately styles and appears to be braided on the sides and parted in the center. Oddly, there appears to be some sort of beading, like a crown or tiara, at the top of her head.  The skirt is pleated at the bottom.  The man is wearing what appears to be a topcoat, and a waistcoat.  His shirt collar has wings, and he appears to be wearing an Ascot tie.  The furniture is solid wood, and well carved.  It has some upholstery on it.  All these clues indicate to me that the picture was taken sometime in the 1880's.
Comments:  I know that these are not the parents of William's wife, Margaret Myles.  I have pictures of them where they are certainly identified, and from different sources.  Given where the pictures came from the most plausible identification is that they are William's parents, John Halls and Annie Kettlewell.  More as to why I think that towards the bottom.

Photo 1 Detail
John Halls Annie Kettlewell

Photo 2
Identity:  Lottie
Source:  William Halls Wedding Album
Location:  Vestine photographer, Rockford, Illinois.  All I have been able to find for certain is that he had retired/left the Rockford area in 1914.
Type:  Photo on cardstock (CDV or Cabinet Card)
Date Taken:  Unknown, but again with clues.  There was a Charlotte who was the sister of William.  She was born in 1872 and probably died around 1900.  The style of clothing screams  1890's, note the especially large shoulders.  My best guess for the date is 1895.
Comments:  William's wedding was in 1895, and this branch of the family appears to have had maternal (Kettlewell) relatives living in Rockford.  At least the censuses between 1870 and 1900 indicate Kettlewell's with some members born in Canada living there.  In addition she had relatives in Beloit, Wisconsin, which is about 20 miles north, and relative in Chicago to the southeast.  Certainly if it is Lottie Halls (as I think it is) then she had multiple reasons to be in the area in 1895.

Photo 3
Identity:  John Halls Jnr
Source:  from descendants of adopted children.
Location:  North Dakota
Type:  Snapshot
Date Taken:  Unknown.  It is a crop of his face from a picture with his adopted daughter Jean (born 1921).  The style of clothes, and their apparent ages indicate to me that the picture was taken in the early to mid 1940's

Photo 4
Identity:  Annie Halls, sibling to John in Photo 3
Source:  from descendants of adopted children.
Location:  North Dakota
Type: Snapshot
Date Taken:  About 1952.  Crop from a scan taken from a picture of John and Annie together.
Comments:  Not a good photo as they are apparently facing into bright sunlight.  Notice how she is squinting.

Photo 5
Identity:  Alva Halls
Source:  from descendants of adopted children.
Location:  North Dakota.
Type:  Photo on cardstock.
Date Taken: 1920's?
Comments:  a formal portrait obviously taken at a studio

Photo 6
Identity:  Margaret Myles and William Halls
Source:  William Halls Wedding Album
Location:  Willow City, North Dakota.  Taken by E.O. Holler
Type:  Photo on cardstock (CDV or Cabinet Card)
Date Taken:  1895
Comments:  I have no doubt this is Margaret Myles as I have another family shot in which she can be identified.  As for the picture itself, the album it is in is dated Feb of 1895 as part of an inscription.  Margaret's style of clothing, especially the sleeves/shoulders indicate a date from the period of the date in the inscription  Both individuals are wearing flowers and dressed in their "Sunday Best".  The flowers were traditional in photos of the time for wedding portraits.  The couple is also holding hands.  So unless Margaret married someone else who promptly died on her, and then the photo was put into an album inscribed, "To Mr and Mrs William Halls on the event of their marriage", it must be a picture of William Halls and Margaret Myles.

Photo 6 Detail
William Halls

I now have seven photos containing eight individuals.  First we'll compare the men to see what similarities there might be.

John Snr John Jnr Alva 1920
Samuel P Halls William Alva 1946

John Senior is the father.  John Junior and William are brothers.  Alva is William's son.  Personally I don't think William much resembles any of the others.  Samuel P is a cousin to both William and John Jnr., and I have thrown him in because to me he looks somewhat like John Snr, which helps establish his Halls identification.  The picture of SP Halls is a graduation photo from Victoria University (now part of the University of Toronto).

What commonalities are there in this group?
  • General Resemblance - John Jnr and Alva, especially Alva in 1946.  SP and John Snr, but it could just be the beard. 
  • Foreheads/Hair - John Snr and Alva have a Widow's Peak pattern at the hairline.  Both John Jnr and Alva also seem to have wavey/wirey hair.
  • Noses - Alva might have his fathers nose.  It certainly doesn't seem to resemble either of the John's, though John Jnr looks like he may have broken his nose at some earlier date.
  • Ears - SP and William seem to have very similar ears.  Alva in 1946 has ears that slightly resemble both his father and SP.
  • Chin/Jaw - Alva and John Jnr seem to have rather broad jaws.  Compare to Lottie and Annie Halls below.

Next we have the women.

Annie Kettlewell Annie Halls Lottie Halls

Annie Kettlewell is the mother of Annie and Lottie.  Annie and Lottie were sisters.

If we break it down as before
  • General Resemblance - Very hard to say due to the quality of the pictures and age differences between the subjects.  Overall not really, but they do have some features that they appear to share.
  • Forehead/Hair - no way to tell with any accuracy between hairstyles, hats, and shadows
  • Ears - as above
  • Noses - Difficult to tell, but all three seem to have some sort of resemblance.  Lottie especially seems to have an almost ski jump (shadows in the image?).  Her mother may be the same, but the head on view makes the comparison questionable.
  • Chin/Jaw - Annie and Lottie definitely have a resemblance in their chins.  Compare to Alva and John Jnr above as well.

Overall Annie Halls, Lottie, Alva, and John Jnr. all seem to have a similar chin.  Annie Kettlewell and her daughter Lottie Halls seem to share a nose, but it is hard to be certain.  Alva, and John Snr. share a widows peak.  William and his cousin Samuel have very similar ears, which helps to tie William into the larger Halls family.  Alva's ears also resemble those of his father, though not as closely as William and Samuel.

So what is the upshot of everything?  Well, in my opinion we are definitely looking at a family group.  I am reasonably confident, over 95%+, of my identifications of the unidentified individuals based on style of dress, facial resemblance to known individuals, people appearing in photos together, the items appearing in the photos with them, and provenance of the images.  While the women are not obviously visually similar, two of the three are identified.  The third can be identified by association.  Amongst the men there were fewer direct identifications, but more family resemblances to go by.  When taken as a group, I think there is very little doubt as to who they are.

I would very much like to thank everyone who has given me photos of the family.  Without your generosity my identifications would be much less certain than they are.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Everything Old is New Again

Everything can't be serious genealogy stuff, so...

Hats and Power Shoulders, 1890 vs 1980
  Coincidence?  I think not!

In case anyone is curious, the 1890's is related, but not the 1980's.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Who Are You? How do we Identify People in Old Photographs

One of the hardest things to do in genealogy is to identify people in old photographs.  I have been at this for a while and I have come up with a set of best practices, or at least best practices for me.  They are not in any particular order of importance.
  1. The more the better.  The larger your collection of old family photos the more likely you are to be able to identify who is in them.  
    • Look for the same faces across your collection.  Do the photos faces appear in have some identifying attribute?  A chin, a forehead, the set of the eyes?  Are there notes on some? If one of them says Bill and Jill, even without last names, it's a start.
  2. Who was your source for the photos?  A distant family member?  A distant family member who did genealogy?  A family who lives in the same area as your ancestors now?  Or an unrelated family who was close neighbours to your family in the past? 
  3. If there is a group of people, how are they standing/sitting in relation to each other?  My experience has been that
    • in multi-generation group portraits with in-laws the parents are obviously the oldest and almost always placed front and center.
    • if members of the opposite sex are touching, especially before WWI, it indicates a very close relationship, siblings, spouses, or parents and children.
  4. Date your photos.
    • Date by the style of dress of the individuals.  Women's clothing styles can date photos to within a decade, and often less.  Certainly they can provide an earliest date.  Men's suits are not so changeable
    • The type of the photo.  Tintype, ambrotype, daguerrotype, etc.  Each had it's range of dates of common use.
    • The style of the actual photo itself. Even within a type, certain ways of mounting went in and out of fashion.  This is especially true of Cabinet Cards. 
    • What are the furnishings?  I found out recently that wicker furniture was only popular from the 1890's to early 1900's
  5. Locate your pictures, in other words where were they taken?  Many older pictures have a photographers imprint either on the back or the mount, and very few of these imprints do not include the place.  This can also date photos by when the photographer was in business in that place.
  6. Are there other pictures on the Internet?
  7. Talk to your aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.  Even if they don't know exactly who is in a picture, they can often give you clues.
  8. Get a facial recognition/tagging program.  The are two that I use are Fotobounce and Picasa.  Often the suggestions they make can give you a clue as to who you are looking at even if you know the identification is wrong.
  9. Cross reference your information.  If you know one person in a group photo, it can give you a "not taken later than" date.  In conjunction with the style of the clothing and the style and type of the photo itself you may get a quite narrow range.  When combined with census records, BMD information, and travel records it can in turn can lead to more identifications.
  10. If you have a network of researchers ask them what they think.  Does your logic hold up?  Explaining your logic to someone else may reveal flaws you made to yourself, and makes it clearer to them why you think what you think, and if they should agree or not.
  11. Put your photos online and available for all to view.  You never know who will stumble across them.
I would recommend Maureen Taylor's blog at Family Tree magazine for the tips and tricks she uses as part of her posts.
So what got me onto reflecting about this?  Well, in the past month I received two separate bunches of photos from the North Dakota branch of the Halls family, from people who did not know they are both researching the same thing.  I will post pictures and explain my logic about my identifications in my next post.