Posted by: downtothesea | February 2, 2009

Illness and injury.

My husband injured his back quite badly about three weeks ago.  He was in terrible pain and required a trip to hospital via ambulance.  This all happened a day after a large snowstorm, so the ER was full of broken limbs and terrible head injuries from slips and falls.  While our wait wasn’t outrageous as far as these things go (2 hours), towards the end of the wait to see the doctor I found myself begging the nurses to give my husband something–anything–that would take the edge off his pain.  I felt so completely helpless.

It turns out that his injury is the kind that will linger for weeks and sometimes months.  Sometimes his meds work, and other times all he can do is lie flat in bed and be in pain.  The fact that we are six hundred miles away from our families (and thus from anyone who could offer me any assistance with him) weighed heavily on me this month. 

Believe it or not, I can tie this all back in with family history.

I started thinking about Thomas McCabe, my gggg-grandfather.  In the 1880 US Census, he is recorded as being about 78 years old and an “invalid.”  In the next field on the census form, we are told his ailment is “asthma.”  Thomas is lucky, however.  His wife Ellen (a spry 71 years of age) is still living at that point, and is presumably able to act as his nurse.  Furthermore, Thomas’ grown son Owen (my ggg-grandfather) lives just next door with his wife and adlut children, and the Gavins, who are by this point inlaws of the McCabes (Owen’s daughter Ellen and the Gavins’ son Michael married some time in the 1870s) live in the house abutting them on the opposite side.  If Ellen McCabe needed immediate assistance with her ailing spouse, there were any number of family members she could turn to at any given time of the night or day.

That is not to say Thomas’ or Ellen’s lot was an easy one.  Ellen must have spent much of her time feeling just as helpless as I did these past few weeks, unable to do much more than make her husband as comfortable as possible.  Asthma in the 19th century was treated variously with coffee, liquor, tobacco (!), and garlic pills.*  While some of these remedies may have had a soothing effect on the patient, they are no match for our modern-day asthma inhalers when it comes to controlling the disease.  I would imagine Ellen spent some frightening times watching Thomas struggle for air and knowing she could do very little for him but try to calm him.  I felt her frustration one hundred and thirty years later: my mantra for my husband, when he was leveled by a muscle spasm attack on his sore back was “Relax…reeeeeeeelax…”  It was all I could do, and he must be so sick of hearing me say it.

So, while I have made little progress in my genealogy these past few weeks, I must say my “long-ago” family has not been far from my mind.  That counts as research, right? 

*As an interesting aside, when I lived in Ireland, I myself came down with a weird chronic lung condition that no amount of antibiotics or even a week’s stay in hospital could either remedy or diagnose.  When I got back to my flat from hospital, my flatmates offered me a variety of homegrown lung remedies.  I was given hot whiskey punch (with cloves and lemon) to relax my coughing and put me to sleep, garlic pills to “strengthen” my lungs, and a vial of eucalyptus oil to daub on my pillow at night to “open my passages.”  And under their care, I recovered.

An opium-based treatment for asthma!

An opium-based treatment for asthma!

Photo can be accessed in original form here.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 21, 2009

Iron horse inquiries.

I have had precious little time to devote to genealogy this week (my poor husband injured his back), but I did uncover one yummy nugget I’m still trying to unpuzzle.

According to Waite’s directory of the city of Niagara Falls, New York, from 1892-1900 my great-great grandfather George Miller worked for the Grand Trunk Railroad as a freight clerk.  He passed away April 1, 1900.

Interestingly, when he settled in Clifton, Ontario, Canada, (later Niagara Falls, Canada) having immigrated from Scotland in 1873-1874, he also worked for the railroad as a clerk (this information was provided by the civil registers of his children’s births).  It seems he spent his entire career in North America as a railroad employee.

What I’m trying to figure out now is whether he worked for the same railway company both in Canada and in the States.  I think the Grand Trunk R. R. operated in both Niagara Falls Canada as well as across the river in Niagara Falls, N. Y., but I’m not entirely sure based on the little internet research I did on the subject.  It’s fairly tricky to figure out, and I think I need to sit down with some railroad history books and suss it all out.

So.  Railroads will have to become my new obsession, I think.

The Great Western Railroad, which would eventually merge with the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1882.

The Great Western Railroad, which would eventually merge with the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1882.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 14, 2009

A well-traveled clock.

This is our grandfather clock, Clock Miller.


Clock Miller, our patriarch.

He originally stood in the Crown Hotel, of which some of you had heard me speak before.  It was a hotel run by our family, the Millers (John and his wife Robina), in the latter half of the 19th century.  It stood on the corner of West Register Street and Prince’s Street in Edinburgh, Scotland until it was torn down in 1923.  It is where my great-great-grandfather George Miller grew up, and according to his marriage record, it was also the very place where he married his wife Elizabeth Aitken Hislop in 1872.


The Crown Hotel, Edinburgh, 1854.

I’m not entirely sure when Clock Miller would have made the trip across the ocean.  He could have come along with George and Elizabeth when they emigrated from Scotland with their young son John in 1874.


John "Jack" Miller, the first son of George and Elizabeth Miller, b. 1872.

On the other hand, that’s a big old nuisance of a thing to lug around with your family on a ship and then put in a train and finally a carriage and move first to Clifton, Ontario, and then across the border to Niagara Falls, New York. Perhaps they shipped it separately? Perhaps it came over to the family alone as part of Robina Miller’s estate when she passed away in Edinburgh in 1908? It would take some more sleuthing on my part to find out. 

My grandmother Jean (Miller) Tanzer, who passed away in 2008, inherited Clock Miller from her aunts Kate and Mary Miller.


My wonderful Gram and myself, Christmas 1999.

Gram’s father was William Miller, the brother of John, Kate, and Mary Miller, who were all the children of George and Elizabeth Miller, my intrepid Scottish immigrant ancestors.


William H. Miller, my great-grandfather, b. 1876 (Canada).

My dad remembers the day he (a young boy at the time) and his parents moved Clock Miller from Kate and Mary’s apartment in Niagara Falls to their home in Rochester, New York.  My grandfather Tanzer was convinced they could fit the clock in the car, and so my dad had to make the 3 hour drive with the clock across his lap in the backseat and the clock’s hood and face poking out the open window of the car.

When my grandparents decided in 2004 that they could no longer live in their house and had to move to a retirement home, Clock Miller very nearly went out with the rubbish.  There was simply no way my grandfather Tanzer would agree to bring the clock to their new apartment.  I think it eased my grandmother’s mind a great deal when my dad and I stepped up and said we’d take the clock.

Though of course, that meant poor Clock Miller had to be loaded up again, this time into a miserable moving van, packed with bubblewrap and a host of pillows, and moved to the coast of New England.  But something about the journey didn’t agree with him this time (he was about 175 years old at this point), and even when we had set him up in my folks’ comfortable living room, he refused to work. Stubborn Scot.

It took three years before we found a clock restoration expert who would agree to drive out to my parents’ house and have a look at our ailing clock.  On principle, my dad refused to send the clock out on another journey, even if only to a clockmaker’s workshop.  The gentleman who did finally come to our rescue was taken with our beat-up old clock, whom he took to calling his “Scottish friend.”  He got Clock Miller working again, and insisted that my father and I watch the repair process so we would each know at least the basics of how the clock worked.  Bless the man.

Today, Clock Miller is still ticking away and chiming brightly at every passing hour.  He needs more work someday, but that may fall to me.  At any rate, Clock Miller is part of our family, really.  He was even there on the morning of my wedding as I relaxed with my maid of honor before the big event–just as he had “overseen” the wedding of my great-great grandparents 3000 miles away and 136 years before.


Me, Clock Miller, and Maryann my maid of honor: July 12, 2008.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 13, 2009

More map fun–courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I was drowsily reading George G. Morgan’s How To Do Everything With Your Genealogy (Emeryville, CA: McGraw-Hill, 2004), last night when I came upon an interesting website rec and gathered enough strength to dog-ear the page (I fell asleep shortly thereafter).

Mr. Morgan recommends checking out the Map Collections homepage of Library of Congress.  As we have established previously, I am a Gigantic Map Nerd, so I needed little encouragement to click my merry way over to the LOC.

The site provides a huge range of historic U. S. and world maps, including maps highlighting military battles and campaigns, and transportation and communication.  I jumped right to the index of maps listed by cities and towns and with little effort found gorgeous, zoomable (I think I just made up a word there), high-resolution historic maps of:

Niagara Falls (click on the map to begin the “zoom” feature), where the Gavins, McCabes, and Millers settled.

Perry, N.Y. , where the Rauchs and Tanzers settled.

Sadly, there was no Worcester, Massachusetts, the place where my Swedish relatives, the Johnsons, Johansons, and Eriksons settled (and where I was born).

There are some railroad maps I’m eager to mess around with, as the Gavins and some of the Millers were railroad men…I may spend a few more minutes tonight happily clicking away there before bed tonight.

Happy mapping!

ETA:  I had another post ready to go about our family’s beloved grandfather clock (with photos!), but WordPress devoured it at around 5pm and I’m still trying to resurrect it.  Hopefully it will be up tomorrow.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 10, 2009

Migraine-induced library adventures.

Yesterday, I had a migraine and took a walk down to my pharmacy to pick up a drug refill.  Since cold soothes my aching head, it was the perfect walk for me: about a mile and a quarter, temperature at about -7 C.  Once I got my ‘script, I popped a pill and decided to head indoors for it to take effect.  I was near the Toronto Reference Library, which I’d never explored, so in I went.

Oh my goodness.  Where have I been for four years?

Almost the entirety of the massive fourth floor is taken up by its huge genealogical collections.  I wandered around aimlessly for a while, just getting a lay of the land and hoping no one would mistake me for a homeless person and toss me out. 

Have a gander at their awesome holdings:

Biographical Sources and Indices

Lists of names

Research tools (Griffith’s Valuation!  Be still my beating heart!)

Overwhelmed, I finally sat down with a gazetteer for Hungary and puzzled out the RC parish to which the Tanzers and Rauchs belonged in the town of Stoosz, Hungary, which is now called “Stos” and is in the Slovak Republic today (the parish was Rosznyo, for those of you keeping track).

I also discovered I could order FHL mircofilms at the Toronto Reference Library!  Because I’m a nerd and I’ve taken to carrying my new genealogy notebook around with me, I actually had film number references on my person, and so I ordered some microfilms.  Productive me!

By then the pills had kicked in and I thought I should toddle home and salvage some of the day, so I bid a fond farewell to my new favorite place in Toronto–until we meet again, dear fourth floor of genealogy at the Toronto Reference Library!

Posted by: downtothesea | January 6, 2009

My dream (volunteer) job.

As DearMYRTLE suggested in her new January 2009 Organizational Checklist for genealogists (how I love checklists!), last night I volunteered to be an indexer for FamilySearch.

After about 30-45 minutes of reading all the training material carefully, I was set free to begin indexing a project of my choice.  I chose to index baptismal records for Cheshire, England mostly because they were in Latin and I figured I should put my odd skill-set to some good use.

A day later, I’m hooked, predictably.  Not only am I using my Latin (simple though church Latin may be), I am also “paying it forward,” as it were.  Hopefully my indexing work will lead another genealogist somewhere down the line to have a “eureka!” moment;  I know I’ve silently blessed the volunteers who took the time to transcribe the baptismal records of Our Lady of the Cataract in Niagara Falls.

I encourage any fellow family historians and genealogists to at least look into volunteering for this indexing project.  I am tremendously glad I did.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 5, 2009

Canadian County Atlases–a site rec.

My husband stumbled on this a-mazing site while looking for old maps of Hamilton, Ontario (he’s on the hunt for the extinct and elusive Ferry Street, where his ancestors, the Kroslaks lived ca. 1910):

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.

Not only are these gorgeous, high-resolution scans of historic Canadian atlases useful for geography’s sake…most have the landowners’ names carefully inked in across their parcels of land!  And, as if that wasn’t fantastic enough, the good digitizers also put together searchable surname indices that correspond to the maps.  Bless them, bless them, bless them.

Unexpectedly, I think I found my gg-grandfather George Miller in the Welland Co. maps;  I don’t want to say for certain as George Miller was a pretty darn common name at the time and in the place, but maybe.  Maybe.

I’ll stick the link in the “Genealogy Nuts and Bolts” sidebar for handy future reference.

Posted by: downtothesea | January 5, 2009

Resolving to be more resolute.

I have been inspired by the topic of the 63rd Carnival of Genealogy, which asks what a genealogist’s New Year’s resolutions might be–and inspiration is a welcome though lacking attribute in my wild get-it-done-without-thought-or-pleasure life right now.

So here are mine.

1)  Slooooooow down with the research.  This is so hard for me, because I get all caught up in the fun of making connections and thus don’t pay attention to what I’ve already learned.  Slowing down also includes reading slowly and making notes.  Which brings me to my next resolution…

2)  Write stuff down.  Lots of stuff.  Stuff I don’t even think I’ll need.  To accomplish this I have purchased a wire-bound notebook and I’ve already begun scrawling copious notes in it, along with further questions that pop into my head during the course of my daily research.  This brings me to my third resolution…

3)  Refer to my notes instead of trying to remember everything.  I have a bad habit of doing this, and of course it leads to dumb, time-wasting mistakes. 

4)  My fourth resolution shoves me right out of my nice warm comfort zone:  I resolve to break the death grip the internet has on me and visit both my local Family History Centre and the City Clerk’s office office of Niagara Falls, New York.  This will be great fun when the weather gets a little more reasonable (which around here is…oh…May), because my husband has been bitten by the genealogy bug as well, and we really enjoy going on “outings” together.  Preferably free outings.  We are a simple folk.

5)  Make more “life event” timelines for my ancestors.  I made three of these yesterday and I’m already beginning to see patterns and connections I’ve missed thus far.  Plus, at the end of the day I had something concrete to show for my work.  I can’t recommend the exercise of personal timelines enough.

6)  Cite, cite, cite, cite.  And then when I’m done with that, cite some more, following that up with several further citations.

Ta-dah!  2009 is going to be a watershed year–I can feel it!

Posted by: downtothesea | December 31, 2008

The power of a nickname.

Yesterday I thought I would spend a few free hours tracking my elusive gg-grandmother Elizabeth Aitken (Hislop) Miller through the 1851-1871 census collection for Edinburgh, Scotland.

I used’s UK census collection for my “grunt work” and then viewed the images (for a per-image fee) at Scotland’s People.

Lo and behold, the reason I couldn’t find her in 1871, the year leading up to her marriage to George Miller, my gg-grandfather, was because she was listed in the census as “Bessie” Hislop!  This is the one and only time I have ever encountered her nickname (which clearly must have been important enough to give to a census-taker).

Bessie!  Suddenly my gg-grandmother has become a “real” person to me–a young person, too!  My grandmother recalled Elizabeth, who was her grandmother, as a (stereo)typical dour Scot;  Grandma once told me that she’d “never seen that woman smile, probably because she had seven children.”  But there’s something lighthearted and fresh about the nickname “Bessie,” and it speaks to a time in Elizabeth’s life that my grandmother of course never knew: before Elizabeth’s marriage, before the births of her children, before the immigration to Canada and to Niagara Falls, New York.

I wonder if Elizabeth’s husband George called her Bessie?  They were married in June 1872 and their first child, John, was born in December of the same year.  The census that reveals her nickname was taken only a year before.  I’m a hopeless romantic and I admit I want to believe George called her by her nickname.

Huh.  Bessie.  One little detail in a 137-year old census.  Let’s see where this delightful new tidbit of information takes me…

Posted by: downtothesea | December 28, 2008

Wee immigration rant.

I want so desperately to find anyone, ANYONE on my father’s mother’s side in immigration records.  It is so hugely frustrating.  I know (as much as I can know, without documentation other than census records) within a year of when the Gavins, McCabes, and Millers immigrated (1850, 1853, 1874, respectively) to North America, but my searches in the immigration records at have yielded a big, fat nothing.

A feature that I think would help me in my search would be the ability to search for family groups in the manifests.  I recognize this would require lots more work on behalf of the folks who make such documents available to the public, but heavens, how it would help.

I have had great luck digging up immigration records my Mum’s side (the Eriksons), as well as on my father’s father’s side (the Tanzers and Rauchs).  Heck, I found the Tanzers and the Rauchs despite rampant transcription errors in the searchable databases (Tauzer, Tanger, Tanzier, and Ranch were a few alternative spellings that yielded information).  But no dice for the Scottish and Irish contingent.

I suppose it would help if I could be sure whether the Millers, McCabes, and Gavins entered via Canada or through the States.  Both the McCabes and the Millers lived briefly on the “other side” of the Niagara River, in Southern Ontario, before settling in the States, and I’m just plain not sure if the Gavins did the same.

So much more work to do, and this brick wall is terribly high.

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