Sunday, 20 July 2014


Until August 4, 2014, everyone from around the world has an opportunity to write a letter to an unknown soldier.  This project is called 14-18 Now  to commemorate the start of WW1.  You can write to the unknown soldier or you can write to a one of your relatives.   All the letters will be published on the website.  As of July 20, 2014, the site has received over 14,000 letters from around the world from all walks of life and age groups.  So please write a letter to say thank you, write a letter to say stop all wars, just say something.  This is the link:  1418now

I chose to write to my grandfather Joseph Henry Down (1889 - 1915).  He was shot in the head and killed at Ypres.  He is memorialized on the Menin Gate with so many other war dead.  He looks like a handsome man in his uniform.  Little did he know that he would be killed 6 months after enlisting.  He left behind 3 children and 2 adopted children and a broken-hearted family.

Here is my letter to Grandpa Joe .  I don't really know if I would call him Grandpa Joe, but that seems right. I called my grandmother Grandma Bert or some times just Bert, short for Bertha, a name she really didn't like.

Joseph Henry Down

My letter to Grandpa Joe

Saturday, 9 November 2013


When I was researching George Howson my 2x great grandfather,  I simply searched George Howson England to see what information if any I could find.
As you can imagine I found quite a few (4,670,000, to be exact).

I have found George Howson, the educator in Yorkshire.  I have found George Howson, the silversmith in Sheffield.  I have various Howsons who were Innkeepers, and since my George was an victualler, I thought they were possibly related.  I still haven't made my way down the list of all 4,6700,000 and now I know that George lived at least for a short period of time in Abingdon, Berkshire, it might help narrow down my search (123,000, my odds are getting better).

But at this time of year the George Howson  that interests me most is Major George Arthur Howson (1886-1936).  He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment in England and served 1914 -1918 in the war.  He was promoted to Captain and awarded the Military Cross at the battle of Passchendaele in 1917.  He was promoted to Major and left the army in 1920.

After the war he started the Disabled Society for injured ex-Servicemen.  An American War Secretary was inspired by John McCrae's poem in Flanders Field and started selling poppies as a remembrance for those who had died in the war and to support ex-servicemen.

George Howson suggested to the British Legion that his Disabled Society could make the poppies.  The poppy was designed so that it could be made by people with disabilities.  The legion continues to sell poppies to this day.

So, Major Howson, I don't think you belong to me, but thanks for your service to your country and your wonderful idea, that helps make the poppy a symbol of remembrance.

Friday, 4 October 2013


We arrived in Abingdon-on-Thames on a beautiful sunny day after spending the morning in the City of Oxford.  It's just a bus ride way about 5 1/2 miles south of Oxford.

Abingdon, in now considered part of Oxfordshire,  but historically it was in Berkshire.  It claims a long history that dates back to the Iron Age.  A defensive enclosure was discovered in the town centre that dates back to the Iron Age and shows evidence of Roman occupation.

St. Helen's Church dates back to 1100 and is still in use today.  And that is where my personal interest begins in Abingdon.   We are on a search to find St. Helen's Church where I know my George Howson married Jane Lay in October 1816.  They also had a son Thomas born in June 1817 and sadly died one day later.  I've already checked with the Oxford Family History Society and they can find no burial records or any other baptismal records, for that matter for George and Jane.

George Howson is listed as a victualler and so we will definitely need to search out some pubs.  Just for authenticity sake, you understand.  Morland was the main brewery in Abingdon for many years.  While Morland brewery was purchased by the Greene King Brewery, you can still see some of the Morland signs.

Armed with a map of Abingdon, off we go to find the Church.  St. Helen's Church is a large Church with it's own small cemetery.  Unfortunately, the church isn't open for tours when we are here.  So, I'll just have to view it from the outside.  Many of the tombstones in the surrounding cemetery are hard to read.  We did find a tombstone for a Charles Lay, but I have no idea if he is one of "my" Lay people.  The stone reads:  An affectionate remembrance of Charles Lay, who died on November 29, 1849, age 39.

Charles Lay Tombstone in  St. Helen's Churchyard

St. Helen's Church entrance
I also know from one of the church records that George and Jane Howson lived on West St. Helen's Street, so we'll have a look for that as well as Ock Street where the pubs were located.

We decide to meander through the streets to see what we can see.  We find a pub on Ock Street called the Brewery Tap.  It once housed the Morland administration office in the 1800's.  It is where the landlords came each month to pay their rent.  The pub itself is quite new but there is lots of Morland memorabilia around.

After a wander through the town, it's time to be on our way.  I'm sorry to leave Abingdon as we only had a flying visit here.  I think I found an Innkeeper in Devon in my family tree, so maybe that will be our next holiday.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013


We arrived in Oxford on a beautiful sunny summer day, but there is heavy rain in the forecast, so we are hoping we can fit in our walking tour of Oxford before that happens.   George Howson (1790), is my 3 times great grandfather and I believe he was born in Oxford.  This reference comes from a publication entitled   "Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of York" (Canada) published in circa 1905.

There is a paragraph  about George Plant who married Georgianna Adelaide Howson (granddaughter of George Howson) " ...George Howson, who was born in Oxford, England where he married Jane Lay. In 1832 they came to Canada settling at Belleville, where Mr. Howson was a market gardener...." 

So, I'm not sure if George actually lived in the City of Oxford, or if the reference is for the County.  But, I do know that George Howson and Jane Lay were married in Abingdon, Berkshire, which is not far away.   Oxford dates back to 900 AD and the University is one of the oldest in the English speaking world. There is also a long history of brewing beer in Oxford.  Since I think George Howson was an Innkeeper in Abingdon, it's conceivable that he lived and worked in Oxford as well.

The University is a series of Colleges and does not have a main campus.  Since the colleges date so far back in history is easy to imagine what the area looked like in the 1800s.

The University dominates the City and there are lots of students and tourists here.  The main mode of transportation appears to be the bicycle.  Our tour guide tells us to be wary of the bikers or as he calls them the "assassins."  As they don't stop for pedestrians.

Several scenes from Harry Potter movies were filmed here.  The Divinity School, Bodelian Library was used as the infirmary for Harry.

Divinity School, Bodelian Library

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) held academic positions at both Oxford and Cambridge and wrote his novel The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, while in Oxford.  These might have been an inspiration for his work:

 There are also lots of pubs here so after our tour we will have a quick lunch and a pint.  Then we will head to Abingdon to see where my George Howson lived.

Sunday, 25 August 2013


We recently booked a last minute vacation, and I found that we had 5 days in England with nothing special planned.  As we were staying near Salisbury, Wiltshire we looked at day trips we could take from that location.

I immediately thought of George Howson, my 3x great grandfather. I knew from information from the Oxfordshire Family History Society (OFHS), that George Howson had married Jane Lay in 1816, at St. Helens Church  in Abingdon-On-Thames, Oxfordshire.  They also had a son Thomas Howson born in 1817, who died at 1 day old, also at St. Helens.

According to the parish records, George was listed as a victualler of West St. Helen's Street at that time.  Unfortunately the OFHS have no tombstone records of any Howsons buried at St. Helen's cemetery.

Since we were in England for such a short time, I didn't feel I could devote a day of research in the library.  However, I did want to see Abingdon and perhaps walk the streets that George and his wife Jane may have walked so many years ago.  Another factor was that my husband in not very interested in genealogy and we both needed to enjoy the day.

We decided to make an overnight trip and accomplish 3 things.  The first was a walking tour of Oxford City.  Our tour guide was very funny and we walked past many of the colleges.  According to him Trinity is the best as he is an alumni.  The day was perfect for a tour and we enjoyed ourselves.  The next part of the trip was a visit to Abingdon, which is just a short bus ride from Oxford.  The 3rd event was a trip to Banbury to see a  Fairport Convention concert, as this is one of my husband's favourite bands.

After all the various tickets and hotel accommodations were booked we were ready to go.  St. Helen's Church is open to the public on certain days, but we would be there late afternoon so we couldn't go inside, but there was still the outside of the church and the churchyard to discover.  I wanted to see the church and West St. Helen's Street, where George lived.  There were also a lot of pubs listed, on Ock Street.  Since another meaning for victualler is an Innkeeper I have been working on the premise that George might have been a pub landlord.  My husband was interested in this concept, he loves a good pub.

So armed with not much more than a Family Group Record of George Howson, a one page history of the St. Helen's Church and a street map of Abingdon, we were on our way.




Tuesday, 2 July 2013


 The Historical Atlas of the County of Wellington, Ontario has an obituary for George McKnight, that lists his wife Mary Smith and his children.  George McKnight was born about 1817 according to the various census, but this biography/obituary states he was born in 1827 in Fermanagh, Ireland and he emigrated to Canada in the early fifties (1850) with his family.  This is incorrect  as Isabella his daughter, was born in Ontario about 1839.  So while some of the information is suspect it does give a sense of who George McKnight was.

From other sources, I know he came to Wellington County by 1854 as he is listed as one of the first owners of land in Minto Township at Concession 1, lots 41 and 42.  The biography states "There were no roads at this time and the McKnight found their way through Wallace and up to their location the 'blazed' path.  Here Mr. McKnight made a small clearing and built a log house, eventually clearing the whole farm and living upon it until his death."  The article also states that he was a Conservative and the family were members of the Church of England.

The most valuable part of the biography lists his children and more importantly who they married.  Unfortunately the daughters are listed by their married names, i.e.:  Mrs. Robert Newton.  This takes some sorting out to discover which daughter it means.  Luckily the  men fare better, they are listed by name and the full name of their wives.

By using the biography as well as information from other sources here are the family marriages:

  • Isabella   (1839 - 1913)  m. Robert Newton
  • Ann J.      (1841 - 1894) m.  Leonard Denney/Denny
  • Margaret (1843 - 1920)  m.  Moses Aldrich
  • Sarah      (1847 - 1929) m.  Robert Magwood, George Adams, E. G.  Harris
  • John        (1849 - 1911) m.  Elizabeth Phillips
  • James     (1850 - 1931) m.   Sarah Rutherford
  • George   (1857 - 1931)  m.  Mary Jane Lovell
  • Mary       (1861 - 1938) m.  Charles Heuckerote 
  • Elizabeth (1862 - 1867)        --
  • Samuel   (1865 - 1957) m.  Elizabeth Rothwell

  • Most of the family seemed to stay in the Wellington County area and George McKnight's farm stayed in the family for years after his death.  I believe there are still quite a few McKnight family descendants in the area to this day.

    Friday, 31 May 2013


    George McKnight was born about 1817 in Fermanagh, Ireland where he married Mary Smith who was born about 1817.  According to Mary's obituary in 1909, they married in 1835.  Shortly after their marriage they came to Canada and settled in Toronto for approximately 2 years where they ran a dry goods store, possibly with a Mr. Saxon.

    After that time they moved to Albion, Peel County, Ontario.  On the 1851 Census, George and Mary  are recorded as living in Caledon, Peel County.  Their children are listed as:

    • Isabella   (1839 - 1913)
    • Ann J.      (1841 - 1894)
    • Margaret (1843 - 1920)
    • Sarah      (1847 - 1929)
    • John        (1849 - 1911)
    • James     (1850 - 1931)

    According to the book They Way it was:  A history of Minto Township, by Clifford Harrison, George McKnight was the original owner of Lots 41 and 42, Concession 1 in Minto, Wellington County in 1854.  The land sale for Minto is recorded as September 10 and 11, 1954.

    Unfortunately the McKnight family seems to have been missed on the 1861 Census in Minto as I can not find the family.

    However, the 1871 Census for Minto shows that the family is still there and that more children were born:

    • George   (1857 - 1931)
    • Mary       (1861 - 1938)
    • Elizabeth (1862 - 1867)
    • Samuel    (1865 - 1957)

    And of course, there might have been other children born between 1850 and 1857 that have not been recorded.

    The birth years that are given here are just approximations as there are no birth certificates to support the dates.  Many of the dates are different from the information that was available at the date of death.  On Isabella McKnight's death certificate from Manitoba, her date and place of birth are recorded as April 6, 1839 and Palmerston, Minto Township.  However, by looking at the census, she was probably born in Caledon, Peel County and not Minto, Wellington County.

    George McKnight Senior died Nov 16, 1884 in Minto.  He was still residing at Lot 42, Concession 1.  At the time of his death his age was recorded as 67 years, 9 months and 18 days.  If my math is correct, his birth date is April 3, 1817.  Mary Smith McKnight his wife died May 15, 1909 in Wallace, Perth County.  They are both buried in the Shipley Cemetery in Wallace.