Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Travel plans, genealogy and compromises

Once we decided to include a visit to Wales and Devon in our UK itinerary, I had great plans to spend time doing research and further work on my genealogy.  In my mind, I was drawing up lists of questions to be answered and directories to be consulted. I wanted answers to those questions that kept me up at night... like when and why did my great-grandfather, Thomas Huxtable Ball, leave South Wales for Leeds, and what may have pushed or pulled him to Yorkshire?  I really could have spent the whole of the four days allotted for Cardiff trolling through local library and archives resources.

Our initials plans also included a day trip to Filleigh, Devon to see where my 3x great-grandfather, John Ball, had his tailor shop. My North American sense of 'drive anywhere' and straight line travel took a beating once we rented a car in Cardiff.   My husband did admirably driving a right hand stick shift, but we spent a couple of hours lost in various places - albeit in the lovely Welsh countryside. We decided to enjoy the journey rather than race about keeping to a timetable. The 3+ hour trek (each way) to Filleigh went by the wayside in favour of exploring more of Cardiff and nearby Caerphilly.

In the end, I realized that making this a research trip would not be fair to my husband and daughter, who don't share my fervent interest in genealogy and ancestor hunting. After all, this was their summer vacation too. Instead, we decided to make this trip about connecting - with family, with the land of my ancestors and the beautiful country that is Wales. 

In retrospect, the research trip is a journey for another day and my mother would be the ideal travel companion - now that has me thinking...

Monday, 23 September 2013

Journeys past and present

As I began this genealogy journey a few decades ago, I never thought that I would be retracing the steps of my grandparents, Bill and Mary Ball.  Back in late 1961, Grandad and Nana embarked on a round-the-world cruise on board a freighter. One of their last trips before returning to Canada was to Wales to visit Grandad's Welsh cousins in Dinas Powys.  Just over 50 years later, little did I know, I would be making a similar journey to connect with my family in South Wales.

It had always been a dream of Grandad to sail - he had always lived near the coast growing up in British Columbia.  Captain Bob Thomas, the husband of his cousin, Gwen Charlotte (Ball) Thomas, was a mariner and had visited with Grandad and Nana many times on his visits to Vancouver and Victoria.  Grandad loved the sea. I will always remember his beloved telescope in the big living room window of his Parksville home that overlooked the Strait of Georgia. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of ships, flags, and cargoes, having worked at the Shell Oil refinery in Vancouver.

When Grandad retired, my grandparents decided to fulfill a dream and sail around the world, in a freighter, no less.  They flew to Los Angeles, boarded a working ship and sailed to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, and finally out onto the Atlantic to France and then onto London. Nana always recalled fondly having dinner at the captain's table and the friendly and hardworking crew that worked on the freighter.  From London, they drove to Dinas Powys to visit with Gwen and Bob Thomas and onto the south of England. They sailed to Montreal from Southampton and then drove across Canada, back to Parksville and the west coast.

My grandparents managed to get lost in Dinas Powys and finally stopped at a corner shop to ask for directions. When Nana spoke to the shopkeeper, he smiled and said "You must be the cousins from Canada" and gave her the directions to the Thomas' (which was coincidentally, just around the corner from where they were). They had a lovely visit with Gwen and Bob. Nana wrote to Gwen on 10 Apr 1962 from Leominster, Herefordshire and noted they felt that "we have known you all for ages". (Gwen's grandson kindly sent me a copy of Nana's letter).

Welsh brass figure.
 My Nana, Mary (McPhee) Ball, is in the framed
 photo to the right - London, April 1962
Of all the trinkets that Nana brought home from her trip, one was a brass bell of a woman in traditional Welsh dress. After Nana passed away in 1997, my mother gave me that brass bell as a keepsake. I think that she knew that I would, one day, make that connection with Wales again. And I did - happily, in late July of this year.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Hiatus and Holiday

As you can probably tell from my lack of blog posts of late, I am not a prolific (or even a consistent) blogger.  I will admit that it is often difficult to juggle family, working full-time, volunteering at a local historical society, conferences, gardening, maintaining a house, sleep, exercise and blogging. And at times, I've decided to let some of the 'balls' (if you will excuse the pun) drop in order to keep my sanity.

Part of my hiatus from blogging was to plan and prepare for our summer vacation.  It was a particularly special trip as we traveled to Wales to meet my third cousins and their families. While I didn't do any research while on the road, I learned many interesting and wonderful tidbits about the Ball family in South Wales and visited a number of towns and villages where my great-grandfather, Thomas Huxtable Ball, and his extended family had lived.  As this was a family trip, visits to archives and libraries were not on the itinerary (although I did sneak one in to say thanks to a librarian who has helped me immensely in my research - I will write about that another day). I have been working through my photos, notes and discoveries from the trip and will share them in the coming weeks.  Back on the blogging beat... again.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Genealogical ADHD... I think I have it

As you can probably tell from my relative silence on the blogging front that I haven't been very productive on the genealogy research lately. I hate to admit that it's true ... work has been mad, have had some rather complex research queries at work, gave five presentations within a month, planned and booked summer holidays (which will include time in Cardiff to meet my third cousins, who I have met through my research), and am in the process of organizing a genealogy fair.  Time seems to be going by at a frantic pace.

I have done bits of research, but I think that I've been suffering from a bout of genealogical ADHD - bouncing from one branch to the other without fully committing to finishing the job at hand. To say that my attention has been scattered is an understatement.  I know that my lack of discipline reflects my tired inner genealogist and self.

My happy place
With an upcoming 2 day weekend, I am going to retreat to my happy place, sit in the sunshine, relax and assess the state of my research. I've come across a lot of interesting bits and pieces and will tell you about them shortly. I promise.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Acts of Genealogical Kindness Keep Me in Awe

St. George's Church, Reynoldston, Wales
After a particularly busy month at work and a frightening tumble down some stairs at home (no broken bones thankfully, only bruises and a few bumps on my head), I started catching up on my home email to find some lovely photos of William James Ball's church and home in my inbox.

The photos were sent by a very kind soul who had connections to Reynoldston as a child and contacted me after I posted the story of William's stay and death at the Glamorgan Asylum. She also attempted to find William's grave in the Church cemetery, but found that the headstone had sunken below the grass and was no longer visible.

I can't tell you how much the photos brightened my day.  Thank you, Vivienne. I am always in awe of the generosity and kindness of people in the genealogical and local history communities.  I promise that I will pay it forward.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Hits and misses at the Family History Library

As part of my RootsTech experience in Salt Lake City, I visited the Family History Library to do some personal research. It was  very much a fascinating experience - so much to see and do and so little time.

I decided that I would focus on John Ball, my 4x great-grandfather, a tailor in South Molton, Devon. I had very limited information on John - much of which came from a copy of an 1815 will that I had obtained last year.  He's been bit of a mystery as his life predates civil registration. And, I have learned that there were many John Balls in Devon during that time period.  In any case, I also knew that he had married Agnes Painter in 1797 and had been recorded as a widow in the parish marriage register. So, my focus was on finding his previous wife (or wives) and any children. I had searched the FamilySearch.org website and had some leads on microfilm of parish registers which might yield some results.

Much to my chagrin, many of the microfilms were of transcriptions of parish registers and didn't yield much more information than was found in the online records on the FamilySearch website. I did find serveral marriages indexed for John Ball - one of which could have been my John Ball, but alas with nothing to corroborate the facts and details.

However, all was not in vain.  I did find a cemetery transcription for South Molton where John Ball is buried. According to the headstone transcription, John's age at death was noted as 76 - making his year of birth approximately 1739 or thereabouts.

So back to the drawing board, I go - at least armed with  another hint or clue about John's life.  I am thinking that I'll need to review what I have collected so far and contact the Devon Record Office and Online Parish Clerks (OPCs) for Devon. Substantiating facts before civil registration is proving to be a challenge.  If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear from you.

Cheers, K.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Remembering RootsTech and Dad

My first RootsTech experience is now a pleasant memory of many great sessions, lessons learned, wonderful genealogists and the friendly people of Salt Lake City.

 I also came away feeling a little bit closer to Dad as Mom and I attended Gonzaga's final West Divison game at the Energy Solutions Centre.  The game was held on Saturday March 23rd against Wichita State.  Sadly, the Bulldogs lost, but it was an exciting game with the scoring going back and forth. And it was neat to experience the mania that is US college sports - so unlike our university athletics in Canada (well, perhaps with the exception of hockey...)

The anniversary of Dad's passing always sneaks up on us - but the fickle weather of spring and Easter mark the final countdown to "the day". It's always a bittersweet time - of reflection on love and loss, fond memories of good times and the pain of his passing. Perhaps Mom and I were meant to be in Salt Lake while Gonzaga played in the basketball tournament finals - I like to think that Dad would have wanted it that way. He's been gone 21 years today, but not forgotten.

Cheers, K.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Cool coincidence at RootsTech

Nana, Dad and Granddad, Gonzaga University, Class of 1955 Graduation Ceremony

Busy day at RootsTech. Great sessions and interesting talks. We didn't make it to the Family History Library but have registered for the Friday Late Night at the Library event. I even managed to tweet using my new phone (with wifi that was patchy at times).

When we arrived in Salt Lake, we learned that Dad's alma mater, Gonzaga University, was playing in the March Madness tournament. The team is ranked #1 in the West division and have a star Canadian player, Kelly Olynyk . They were set to play Southern University at the Energy Centre today at 2:10pm. The arena is just a block away from our hotel.

Dad played basketball and baseball for Gonzaga in 1953-1955 on a sports scholarship. I recently found a treasure trove of digital images on the Gonzaga University Special Collections website. This is a link to a photo of Dad on the 1953-54 Gonzaga Jr. Varsity basketball team. Mom and I have been thinking of him as the game approached.

Well, my Mother decided to cut the conference this afternoon and went to her first ever NCAA basketball game - and watched the Bulldogs defeat Southern University. A kind of date with Dad, after all these years. I am really proud of her. You rock, Mom!

Cheers, K.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Getting ready for RootsTech

I can hardly believe that the day is almost here... RootsTech begins tomorrow morning. Recent reports suggest that over 6,800 attendees are due to flood the gates of the Salt Palace (which is happily next door to our hotel) on Thursday. We picked up our registration packages this afternoon after spending the day at the Family History Library. Now to sit down and re-trace my workshop registrations and map out the day. I am really looking forward to meeting my fellow Geneabloggers tomorrow and beginning the adventure that is RootsTech.

Cheers, K.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Storm chasing

Well, after a very long day, we have made it to Salt Lake City safe and sound. An approaching storm forced us to take an earlier flightout of Toronto so we could meet our connection in Chicago for Salt Lake City. We met a wonderful teacher bringing back her music class students to Kansas City after their trip to New York City and performance at the Lincoln Centre. Memories, I am sure, that which will become cherished family stories for those students one day.

Cheers, K

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Rootstech and Research

Life has been very busy lately - especially with my workplace under construction and a move of collections and staff into temporary quarters. And it hasn't left much time for family history research and keeping up with various social media.

Nevertheless, I've been trying to get ready for RootsTech too. RootsTech is a popular and well attended genealogy conference in Salt Lake City Utah, which offers genealogy enthusiasts the chance to learn about the newest developments in technology, resources and family history preservation. I am fortunate to have my attendance funded by my employer and have added a few days of rest and research in Salt Lake City. RootsTech promises to be exciting and I am looking forward to meeting some of my genealogy blogging heroes like Jill Ball, Amy Coffin and Thomas MacEntee.

While I don't anticipate that I will be able to find all the answers to my research queries, I am very much looking forward to exploring the Family History Library, absorbing the spirit and enjoy of genealogy's mecca that is Salt Lake City. The trip will doubly special because I am sharing the experience with my Mom, who is coming to the conference too. So, time to get that suitcase packed...

I will keep in touch over the blog to let you know of interesting finds and conference events (that is, of course, I can figure out how to use my new smartphone. Nothing like adopting new technology on the eve of a conference!)

Cheers, K.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Reflecting on genealogy and milestones

As I head towards a milestone birthday later this month (I'll not say which, but I haven't been able to claim '29 and holding' in decades), I have been thinking about how much genealogy has shaped and continues to shape my world - both professional and personal.

As I get older, the meaning of family and home has taken on different, yet stronger meanings for me. Having moved around a lot while growing up, I don't have a strong sense of home as physical place. However, I do feel attachment to many places - where I have lived, where my parents lived and where our ancestors lived too. Learning and understanding how these places have shaped or influenced me or my family is a big part of my interests and research nowadays. My own family means more to me than anything in this world - helping to connect them to our collective past and connecting with our extended family is a privilege and honour.

Genealogy has given me a way to root myself in many ways - to places, people and events which I had never considered before. Personally, I've also found that my precious spare seems to be devoted to genealogy and family history research. I look forward to attending RootsTech with my mother in March and sharing with her new discoveries about the field and the technical wizardry that makes this field so interesting (and challenging too, to say the least). Life seems to be speeding along nowadays - perhaps that is a sign of my age, too.

Professionally, I spend my days helping others find their homes, places and families - a journey which I am honoured to share with them. Nothing feels better than helping someone to make the connection between a long lost relative or ancestor. Conversely, I can understand that frustration of brickwalls and those research avenues which bear little in terms of concrete results. They are all part of the process.

As much as I look back to my own and my family's pasts, I am also looking forward to the future - shared with family, friends and genealogy colleagues.

Cheers, K.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Final notes on the death of William Henry Ball, 1892-1941

While I was thrilled to have finally tracked down the details of William Henry's death, it's been quite saddening to learn about his passing in all of its horrendous detail. I received the newspaper accounts of the accident from the Ealing Library earlier this month and they have added a few new details about the fateful day of Saturday June 14, 1941.

The Middlesex County Times noted, in their 21 June 1941 report concerning the coroner's inquest, that William had purchased a platform ticket in the late afternoon of Saturday June 14th, a fact confirmed by a booking clerk at Ealing Broadway Station. A railway porter, James Frederick Matthews, was on duty at 6pm when his attention was caught by a man yelling on the No. 4 platform that a body was on the main line. When he investigated, it was discovered that William had already been struck by the train and parts of his body were strewn along the tracks.

The train driver reported that the express had been traveling at 60 miles an hour, when they passed underneath a footbridge on approach to the station. A dark object appeared in front of the engine, but the driver's vision and glasses were obscured by steam. He applied the brakes, but was unable to stop in time nor at the station, so carried onto Paddington.

The pathologist found no evidence of natural disease in his autopsy of William and found that he had died of multiple injuries. An open verdict was recorded by the coroner as there was insufficient evidence to determine how William had fallen from the platform or if he had jumped to his death.

In the Middlesex Gazette of the same date, it was reported that William had failed to report to work that Saturday. The story also noted that porter at Ealing Broadway has been approached by a man about a body on the tracks, who soon afterward disappeared. Police reported that William's body had been spread out over a distance of 50 yards and that the 15 GBP that his wife believed to be in his possession, had not been found. At the end of the coroner's court, Matilda collapsed, saying "He didn't do it. He didn't do it." when an open verdict was declared. She had to be helped from the court room.

Had William had a medical emergency and fallen, stumbled, been pushed, or decided to jump? While I wish that I had an answer, there are just to many variables to consider - why hadn't he reported to work that day, where were the money that he was to have had on him, why did he tell Matilda that he would be home to hear the music program on the radio at 8pm? I suspect that he may have jumped to his death, but it is speculation on my part.

Hopefully, on to happier tales next time...

Cheers, K.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Coroner's report for William Henry Ball, 1892-1941

Following the tragic death of William Henry Ball at the Ealing Broadway Train Station, a coroner's inquest was held. These are the details from that inquest conducted by Mr. H.G. Broadbridge, coroner for West Middlesex, on 18 June 1941 at Ealing Town Hall.

This is an image of the Ealing Town Hall:

By P.g.champion (Own work) [CC-BY-2.0-uk (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/uk/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

William died as a result of being hit by a train at Ealing Broadway station, an east-west National Rail and London Underground station in Ealing in west London, located here:

View Larger Map

William was 48 years old. He had lived at 34 Stanley Crescent, Southall, with his wife, Kate Matilda Ball (her name appears as 'Matilda Kate' in other records), and had been a carpenter's labourer for the Great Western Railway.

Francis Paynter, who had known William for 12 years and lived at the same address, described him as a 'temperate man' in his testimony.

Kate Ball noted that William had suffered from asthma and bronchitis and took medication for these conditions. He did not gamble, had no financial worries and had been a teetotaler since the previous October. She noted that he been worried when she was ill recently.

On the morning of Saturday 14 June 1941, William went through his normal morning routine and showed no signs of distress or upset. He usually travelled by trolleybus to Acton, where he worked, but often stopped at Ealing, due to his illness, which had been aggravated in the last two years of his life. However, he never turned up at work that day.

The report notes that William bought a ticket for Ealing Station late that afternoon. At 6pm, James Matthew, a railway porter, heard on man on Platform 4 shouting that a body was on the main line. Unable to stop, the express train to Paddington hit William with such force that his body was left in pieces. The train had been travelling at 60mph and the driver's view was obscured by engine steam. Although the brakes were applied, the driver was unable to stop the train in time.

The pathologist reported that death was due to multiple injuries and the coroner was unable to determine why William fell onto the tracks, so an open verdict was recorded. William's wife, it was noted, felt that it had been an accident and had to be helped away.

Had William jumped or fell onto the tracks? Given his failure to turn up at work, I am tempted to say that this was indeed a suicide, but there may have been other circumstances at play, including his health. It is such a tragic end to William's life. I also can't help but feel sad for the poor train driver who had been unable to stop in time.

Many thanks to the Ealing Library Local Studies Centre and Dr. Oates for their assistance in tracking down this information. I have ordered additional news reports of the accident and will update details upon their receipt.

Cheers, K.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Closure for my mystery man, William Henry Ball

In my previous post, I had mentioned that I had obtained a death certificate for a William Henry Ball, who had died in 1941 in Ealing in a horrific railway related incident, but could not confirm if this was my William Henry. Sadly, I can now say that it was indeed my William, who died so tragically at the Ealing Broadway train station the afternoon of 14 June 1941.

To learn more details about the event and victim, I contacted the Ealing Library Local Studies Centre about obtaining a copy of the obituary for William Henry Ball, noted in the death certificate. Dr. Jonathan Oates, Borough archivist and local studies librarian, kindly provided me with a synopsis of the coroner's report which confirmed the identity of William. The inquest, held on 18 June 1941, at Ealing Town Hall, recorded an open verdict, which means that a determination on whether it was an accident or suicide could not made, based on the evidence heard and presented.

Many thanks to go Dr. Oates and the Ealing Library for providing this information for it has solved the mystery of William's death.

I'll post more details from the inquest in the days to come. Stay tuned!

Cheers, K.