Friday, February 01, 2008

Dinner Guests from the Past - Vancouver Style -41ST CARNIVAL OF GENEALOGY

Joseph (Joe) Rogers, camping in British Columbia, 1910's

Frank and John Rogers (marked F & J) with step-sister, Susan Battice, née Peel, (S), camping at Parry Sound, Ontario, 1920's?

The question for the 41st Carnival of Genealogy is “If you could have dinner with four of your ancestors who would they be and why?”

Only four ancestors? My goodness, most days I’d want to hire a hall and invite 64 or 128 – I have so many questions about the past.

Still…I know who I’d invite first – great grandma, Mary Ann White, born about 1840, in England, maybe in London, maybe not.

Would I invite her two husbands? I’d love to meet them both, but that could be a bit too much for her or them, so not this time. But, I’d invite my dad, and his dad, (my grandpa, Mary Ann’s middle son, Joe), and then I’d have to invite my mum. She wouldn’t want to miss anything. That’s four ancestors right off. Maybe I could cheat just a little and invite Susan Peel too? She’s my grandpa Joe’s step sister.

We’d have dinner here, I think, in my time, or better yet, at my kids’ house – we could eat outside if it’s nice. I eat in restaurants a lot, but Mary Ann might not approve and anyway, a home would be more comfortable for a time traveler than a public place. I’d have my few Rogers photographs and my files handy.

I might like to time travel myself, but one thing I can count on – if my family hears people are coming from the past, they’ll all show up for the event, even though they aren’t very interested in genealogy – because they’ll be worried about me.

We’d have a ‘real’ coastal British Columbia meal – salmon, potatoes, salad, lots of vegetables – maybe even some of B.C.’s Rogers’ chocolates for dessert. (No relation that I can see – sad to say.) Easy dinner to do – more time to talk. Maybe afterwards we could go for a drive to see the sights in Vancouver. Grandpa would notice lots of changes since 1954, that’s certain, and both Mary Ann and Susan might enjoy seeing where Joe lived, since neither ever came here.

I’ve invested a lot of time into looking for Mary Ann’s family – I am very proud of having ‘found’ her a brother, for one thing, since I knew nothing of her to start. But although I’ve proved that some families couldn’t be hers, I have no evidence that links her to a birth family…yet. So, of course, I’d want to get some details from her during the visit – Where born? What about her parents? Brothers and sisters? Aunts and uncles? How many of the family came to Canada? And what ever happened to that Alfred, his wife Emma, and their children? Best if I had my computer all hooked up and ready to go. Son James would take photographs of the visit himself or make a video – I always cut people’s heads off, he says.

I do wonder if Mary Ann might be a bit upset that this information wasn’t passed down to me? Or would she just laugh and say “Those boys! I knew they never paid my stories any mind, you know.” (What kind of accent did she have?)

She’s a silhouette on my family tree. I have no photographs of her, and not even a signature as she signed with an x. I do have a couple of photographs of her oldest and youngest sons, Frank and John, (and a few stories about them!) and I have photos of their brother, my grandpa, Joe, and one photo showing Susan Peel, their step sister. Who did the boys look like – their mother’s or their father, William’s, family? And what about Susan? Who would she say she took after – and did she have an Irish lilt in her voice from her parents?

My great grandma, Mary Ann, came to Toronto, Canada about 1871 from England and married William Rodgers in Toronto in 1873. (Did she know him before? How did they meet?) William died in 1887, leaving her a widow with three sons, and within 6 months, she married Armour Peel, Susan’s father. (Armour had at least 3 children of his own.)

I’ve always wondered about that – was she a ‘good catch’ – a great cook and household manager? She had boarders as well as children to look after. (Another reason for my not cooking an elaborate meal. Couldn’t compete!) Or was she a sunny, easy to be with person? Quick witted; funny? Were both she and Armour smitten or was this a more practical arrangement? I hope both he and William were as good to her as they could be– she must have worked very hard most of her life.

Ten years later, in 1897, Mary Ann died. The story I heard, as told to my mother by Susan, was that before dying, Mary Ann asked Susan to look after the youngest boy, John, then 14. Apparently, Susan was by that time herself a widow. She had married James Battice and they had one child I know of, Lydia Louise, (or Lydia Elizabeth) who was born in March 1887 and died a few months later.(I hope it would not make Susan or Mary Ann sad to ask more about James, and, was Lydia both Louise and Elizabeth, and where is she buried? )

As she promised, Susan did indeed take care of John, and Frank too. The three of them lived together till their deaths. Only my grandpa left home and married. From the little I’ve heard and from the letters I’ve read, the three had happy, busy lives with lots of friends – mostly centred, I think, round Susan, her church activities and her Peel kin.

Given my often reinforced belief that it’s women in the family that generally know the family details and the stories, between them Mary Ann and Susan will likely be able to answer my questions not only about the WHITEs and the PEELs, but about the other connections I want to make on that side of the family.

But genealogy for me isn’t only about the facts or those all important documents that provide us with the evidence. (That reminds me, I need to thank Mary Ann for that clue left in William Rogers’ death registration. I’m sure she left that for me.)

Above all, I’d really like Mary Ann to know that her boys, and Susan too, made out fine. I’d like her to meet my dad, her grandson, my own children, and her great great great grandson, who may be a bit of a surprise to her.

And, although William Rogers won’t be there this time, maybe my grandpa Joe could let my dad know if he was really named for William, his grandfather. If dad ever heard that, he had forgotten.

I've always been a bit sorry that I didn't start the ROGERS-WHITE research while Dad was alive. He said he knew 'nothing' - just that we were once pirates and named for the 'Jolly Roger'. My brother firmly believes this. I will surely find him a family pirate soon. Now that would make for the next exciting ancestor dinner - on board a fighting sloop in the Caribbean.

For myself, the really interesting thing about this dinner might be how we all get on - will we get into a hot political discussion as my son and I often do, will we find some of each others' ideas distasteful (or perhaps time travellers take a preparedness course and are wary of some topics), or will our biological bonds and our ideas about the lasting importance of family let us enjoy the time together?

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