Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

Solving a 90-year-old family mystery

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Nellie Grandpa's First Wife Feb 1919

Nellie Williams: mystery woman, 1919. Photo courtesy of Loretta Houben

Growing up I would sometimes hear stories about Nellie, my Grandpa John Williams’ first wife. She had died in 1926 out on the barren Saskatchewan prairies of a broken heart.

An old photo of Nellie taken in 1919 intrigued me. She was young and pretty wearing a large Edwardian style hat, but looked quite sad and mysterious. What was her real name and her maiden name? Where had she come from? How did my grandpa meet her?

I love genealogy, the study of family history. For years these questions had perplexed me, and after solving other family mysteries recently I felt it was time to discover more about Nellie. On the 1921 Canadian census I discovered her real name was Ellen (see the February 2014 RCC News article “1921 Canadian Census Tips”). I searched for a few years for her surname but the fee from Saskatchewan Vital Statistics was too pricey for me to track down her marriage certificate.

However, taking my own advice, I joined the Saskatchewan Genealogy Network on Facebook, and began asking questions about family research in Naicam, Saskatchewan, the place where Nellie had died.

I was advised to join the Naicam Homecoming group. The very day that I asked for help regarding Nellie and her maiden name and how to search further for her marriage certificate, a researcher at the Naicam Museum Facebook messaged me her death certificate! I had never thought to look for a maiden name on that type of certificate, but there it was; her father’s name, Edward Egerton!

Also included was Nellie’s date of birth and birth country, her length of residence in Canada, her address, her husband’s signature, her date of death and her cause of death; croupous pneumonia due to low vitality; in other words, a broken heart. This was because her young son, Edward, had died in 1925.

Now I had facts to help me in my search for further clues to Nellie’s past life, and I quickly found the dates of her voyage to Canada on the ship’s passenger lists online, but this presented another mystery, as she had lived in Toronto for four years, returned home to Wales for a time, then took another sea voyage in 1918 with the destination of Three Hills Alberta, where my grandpa was residing. No one would go to such a tiny town without a purpose, so I believe she was headed there to marry John.

Did they meet back in Wales and keep up a correspondence since 1910, when John had immigrated to Canada? It’s just another mystery to solve. Now on to the next one, and have fun with yours!

Loretta Houben is a long-time resident of the Collingwood area and enjoys poking around on Facebook in her spare time, always on the lookout for new family clues.

Copyright (c) 2016 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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