Saturday, 14 January 2017


Over 4 years ago I wrote about the O'Leary sisters country and western group and the very tentative connection to my Meehan family see Meehan-O'Leary Connection.

Since that time I have been in contact with a descendant of Teresa Meehan and Norman Dunne O'Leary.    Susan also introduced me to another relative Rosemary.  Rosemary is a descendant of Mary Ann Meehan and Lorne Sheridan.  Susan, Rosemary and I share the same great grandparents George Thomas Meehan (1851) and Emma Howson.(1851)

Both Susan and Rosemary have been very generous and shared family pictures.  My grandfather George Meehan (1882) and my grandmother Isabel Faulkner were separated and I didn't know my grandfather.  So when Susan shared the Meehan family photo I was thrilled.

The picture was taken circa 1907 and appears to be taken for a formal gathering, possibly a wedding.

Back Row L to R: George Meehan (1882),Margaret Meehan (1876), James Meehan (1880), Mary Ann Meehan (1878),   Seated  George T. Meehan (1851) Teresa Meehan (1886) Emma Howson  Meehan (1851)

Saturday, 8 November 2014


As the 100 year anniversary of the first World War is upon us, I started to research where my grandfather Joseph Henry Down had been stationed during the War.  The Canadian government is digitizing all the service records for the soldiers of the first world war.  This is good and bad news.  Good news that the files will be available for free online.  Bad news because they are not available to the public while they are being digitized.  Because my grandfather's surname starts with a "D", these records are unavailable at this time.  So, I have taken much of my information from the Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914 - 1919 book, by Colonel G. W. L. Nicholson.

Joseph was born  September 23, 1889 in Toronto.  He was married to Bertha Snider (nee Busby) in 1911.  Bertha was a widow with 2 girls, Mildred and Marjory.  Joseph and Bertha had 3 children:  Charles, Geraldine "Dolly" and Joseph.  It should be noted that his son, Joseph, was born in December 1914 and his father probably didn't see his son.

On August 4, 1914, England declared war on Germany.  Shortly after that Samuel Hughes, the Canadian Minister of Militia and Defence ordered that a recruitment settlement be established at Valcartier, Quebec.

Accordingly, Joseph, felt the call of duty and left his family behind to sign up.  He was deemed fit for duty on September 1 at Valcartier and then signed his Attestation paper on September 25, 1914.   He was assigned to the 1st Division Engineers, 2nd Field Company.  He was a Sapper in the army and he had been a linesman before entering the service.

The new recruits were sent from Valcartier to Quebec City by train in October to board ships for England.  Apparently there was too much equipment for the ships that had been procured and loading appears to have been a shambles.  On October 3, 1914, the 2nd Field Company left for England aboard the "Zeeland" bound for Southampton.  During the 11 day crossing there was a rumour that the Germans would intercept them at Southampton and so at the last moment, the ship was directed to dock in Plymouth. 

Plymouth was not ready for such a large contingent of ships, machinery and people.  It took 9 days to unload the cargo and send everything and everyone to Salisbury where the training camp was located on Salisbury Plains.  The Divisional HQ was established at "Ye Olde Bustard" 3 miles north west of Stonehenge.  According to the war diaries for the time at Salisbury it rained almost non stop and outdoor training had to be suspended.  As well the contractors who were building the barracks for the soldiers were well behind schedule and many men were still living in tents as the winter approached. 

Joseph Down, seated left.  Photo taken in Fisherton Street, Salisbury, circa 1914

In February 1915, the soldiers started to move to France.  On February 2, 1915 an advance party left Avonmouth, Bristol for St. Nazaire, France.  The Southampton to Le Havre route unavailable to them, because of fear of a German attack.  It was then a 500 mile journey to the Front.

On February 15, the Division arrived in the Hazebrouck Strazeele area, where they commenced training with the British Troops until the beginning of March 1915.  From March 10 -12 they fought in the battle of Neuve Chapelle and then were assigned a tour of duty in the Fleurbaix sector.

Between April 14 - 17, the 1st Division relieved the French 11th Division in the Ypres area in Belgium.  They found the area very wet because they were close to the Yser canal.  The trenches were shallow and needed to be reinforced.  Some of the shallow trenches had been used as latrines and others used to store dead bodies.  The Canadian soldiers had to dig deeper trenches and repair the others.

On April 22, they were engaged in the Battle of Gravenstafel.  This battle was the first battle where the Germans used chlorine gas attacks as part of the battle strategy.  The Canadians had no gas masks for protection. 

The second gas attack occurred at the Battle of St. Julien took place between April 24, and May 5, 1915.  There were more gas attacks by the Germans with the Canadian army supplied with wetted handkerchiefs to combat the gas.  Sadly this is where Joseph Henry Down's war ended.  He was not felled by a gas attack, but by a bullet.  He was killed in action," shot through the head and killed instantly about noon on the 24th of April 1915, whilst on duty with a working party in the Ypres Salient, near St. Julien." according to his service record.

On May 3, 1915 the army withdrew after losing over 5,000 Canadian Soldiers. Joseph Down's body was never recovered and his name along with 55,000 other soldiers is commemorated on the Menin Memorial Gate in Belgium.   

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 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.  
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.