Always Look at the Record Itself. Always.

OK, Campers, today’s lesson is “Always Look at the Record Itself.”

I went back and looked at that wonky 1921 Census of Canada entry, the warped entry that is nonetheless verifiable as our McNally/Pearce family in Fernie, British Columbia. I wanted to look at the actual census image — not just the text-based record copy indexed with the image. That was when I spotted it. The record index reflected that Stephen Joseph McNally told the census-taker his parents were both English-born, as was he himself. I’ve used that fact up until now, but the record index was wrong. Under “Father’s birthplace,” the census-taker wrote “Irish,” then crossed it out and wrote above it “Ireland,” formatting it properly for that field. (For his mother, “English” corrects to “England.”)


[Image: 1921 Census of Canada, see center cell of row in yellow.]

In the previous entry, I provided a list of candidates for our John McNally based on death dates. That work is still valid in that none of it was based on his birthplace but rather on the verified data points of his having been in England eventually.

I suggested that John McNally was likely born between 1843 and 1876 based on the idea that he was between 17 and 50 at his son Stephen Joseph McNally’s birth in 1893. While it is possible that Stephen Joseph was born late in John’s life, the fact that John had a London address in 1914 or even in 1910, though, makes it reasonable to assume John was working in a decently paid profession and was thus not of considerably advanced age — perhaps not past 60 in 1910 or 65 around the time Stephen Joseph was enlisting. This would suggest a birth year not much earlier than about 1850. As a consequence, I did not investigate death records for John McNallys born before 1848 — finding none born in 1848 and only three born in 1849 who died in the right timeframe.

It is also true that my assumption of 17 for John’s youngest possible age at Stephen Joseph’s birth may have still been too old. It’s possible John was 15 or 16 at his son’s birth and/or that he lived to be a very old man, meaning I may need to keep looking at death records as late as 1978 or so.

There are other possibilities, too. There was a war on in the 1910s (and the 1930s/1940s), and because he would almost certainly have been too old to be anything but a civilian, it’s possible his death went unrecorded (or unrecorded as him) for a number of reasons. It’s also possible he followed his son to Canada, returned to his homeland of Ireland, went to France or to Scotland, or even died at sea.

At present, I’m also trying to track Stephen Joseph McNally via his service records, both through the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force and through the Middlesex Regiment reserve service he claimed on his Canadian enlistment. It’s the Middlesex Regiment service records I want the most, though, as they have the potential to fix data points earlier than 1914 — because one other significant hedge in my pursuit of John McNally is that 1914 date, as it concerns his presence in London.

According to the 1921 Census of Canada, the censustaker recorded for every member of the family except for two — Stephen Joseph and Phyllis’s baby daughter Mary, as well as Phyllis’s brother Leonard. (Leonard, I realized for the first time, is listed as being born in British Columbia, which does track with the family arriving in 1910 if he was 10 in 1921. But this also raises a host of questions — namely, Where’s their mother, Edith, in 1921? I suppose that’s the next post!)

If Stephen Joseph McNally had not been in England since 1910, it’s possible his father was no longer at that address or even alive. In that respect, I probably need to include candidates who died between 1910 and 1914, because, while they may have kept in close touch, it’s also possible they didn’t. If he knew his father was dead, he might have listed someone else as next-of-kin, but if all he knew was that he didn’t know, he might have given them his father’s last known name and address anyway.

It’s also probably relevant to question the 1910 immigration date’s applicability to the whole group. After all, Phyllis would have been but 7 years old and her siblings 5, 3, and 1, so her youngest brother Leonard’s birth in British Columbia in approximately 1911 suggests the Pearce family, including their mother, did make a move in 1910. But if that was the year the Pearces came to Canada, is it possible it was accidentally erroneously recorded for Stephen Joseph McNally, too?

I had previously looked for Stephen Joseph McNally in England in 1911, knowing he might not be there, and not found him. But if the Pearces/Pierces were in Canada, perhaps I could find them, whether I found Phyllis’s future husband or not.



One thought on “Always Look at the Record Itself. Always.

  1. 1921 Census of Canada [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2013. Original data: Library and Archives Canada. Sixth Census of Canada, 1921. Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Library and Archives Canada, 2013. Series RG31. Statistics Canada Fonds. Canada, Soldiers of the First World War, 1914-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2006. Images are used with the permission of Library and Archives Canada. Original data: Canada. “Soldiers of the First World War (1914-1918).” Record Group 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 4930 – 35. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa.


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