The Pearce Family of British Columbia and the Empress of Ireland

So I’m temporarily sticking a pin in John McNally, peeling off instead to locate the Pearce/Pierce siblings in 1911 and Edith in 1921.

Sure enough, I found their arrival in Quebec, from Liverpool, on September 1, 1910, on their way to what might be Michel, British Columbia. The log is a bit of a mess, but it records the entry of Mrs. Edith Pearce (age 40), and her children Marjorie G. Pearce (age 10), Phyllis M. Pearce (age 7), Agnes B. Pearce (age 5), Horace O/A. Pearce (age 3), and Doris Pearce (age 1).


[Image: Canadian Passenger Lists 1865-1935, Empress of Ireland, 1 September 1910, Library and Archives Canada.]

That Phyllis had an older sister named Marjorie comes as a surprise. It’s interesting to note that Edith comes without a husband on the ship but under the label “Wife,” suggesting a living husband the family were perhaps headed to join. Given that we know Edith would deliver another child the next year, Phyllis’s little brother Leonard, Edith was either pregnant or about to get that way. Unfortunately, B.C. doesn’t make birth records for 1911 publicly available, and I know the process to request Leonard’s would be complicated.

Marjorie isn’t in the 1921 Census of Canada, nor do I find her marrying or dying in B.C. She may in fact resolve a mismatch between my aunt’s recollection and the historical record about exactly how many of Edith’s children came over from England. She insisted that a girl had stayed behind, but she identified Doris, who clearly exists as the 1-year-old female infant above and appears in the 1921 Census. What if the daughter who “stayed behind” was actually a daughter who went back? (And where was Edith in 1921 when the other children were in Phyllis’s house?)

I called my dad, who “just barely” remembers Leonard — “old Len” — living in Port Albernie, B.C. That’s a good data point for me to follow up on, though a quick run of turns up nothing immediately obvious or useful. My dad was marveling at the detail the records provide for people whose lives are not so far removed from his own in time but in so many ways utterly alien to him because the family didn’t always talk much about such things. It was a good reminder for me why it’s so important to look at the records themselves, not just index listings.

I may have my father submit a request to B.C. Vital Records to get a genealogical copy of Leonard’s birth certificate. Vital Records makes a few different versions of historic birth certificates available, including one for genealogical purposes. While demonstrating a direct family connection is the easiest approach, petitioners may write to the Adjutant General to plead individual cases. Since Canada did not perform a comprehensive census until 1921, and B.C. does not seem to have done any local ones in the 1910s, Leonard’s birth certificate may provide the most concrete documentation available of the family’s life during that period.

Another possibility, though, arises from the presence of the notation “S. Army” in the column explaining a reason for a prior visit to Canada.

According to Phyllis’s two marriage certificates, her parents were Edith Collins and William Pearce — according to her first, her father William was an “engineer.” This wouldn’t be out of line at all with his being a military man, but what then is the “S.,” and does it help us locate him? Or, does his being an engineer suggest a non-military meaning for “S. Army” that I’m just not aware of (something train-related perhaps — or possibly the Salvation Army somehow)?

We know that Edith Collins Pearce was on her way to join her husband in B.C. in 1910 with four children in tow, and that one would be born soon thereafter. But where were they before that?

Initial attempts to find Edith and William in the 1901 Census of England have been unsuccessful, but they should be there, together. Marjorie should have been born in 1899 or 1900 to be 10 years old in September of 1910, and thus present in her parents’ house in England in 1901. Assuming she was the eldest child, they were likely married no earlier than 1895 — probably more likely 1898, give or take a year — but if she was not the eldest, they could have been married some years before that. However, recalling my aunt’s story that one daughter “stayed behind,” I’m inclined to guess Marjorie was the eldest or possibly second eldest.

So the tasks, other than getting Leonard’s birth certificate, now stand as follows:

  1. Find the marriage of William Pearce and Edith Collins around 1897, give or take two years,
  2. Find William and Edith Pearce in the 1901 Census of England with their 1-year-old daughter Marjorie,
  3. Find Edith Collins Pearce (and hopefully William Pearce) in 1921, and
  4. Find Stephen Joseph McNally’s immigration to Canada, in 1910 or otherwise.
  5. (and catch up on bibliographic citations — good lord I’m behind again!)

One thought on “The Pearce Family of British Columbia and the Empress of Ireland

  1. 1901 England Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005. Original data: Census Returns of England and Wales, 1901. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives, 1901. Data imaged from the National Archives, London, England. The National Archives gives no warranty as to the accuracy, completeness or fitness for the purpose of the information provided. Images may be used only for purposes of research, private study or education. Applications for any other use should be made to the National Archives, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 4DU. 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. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010. Original data: Passenger Lists, 1865–1935. Microfilm Publications T-479 to T-520, T-4689 to T-4874, T-14700 to T-14939, C-4511 to C-4542. Library and Archives Canada, n.d. RG 76-C. Department of Employment and Immigration fonds. Library and Archives Canada Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2012. Original data: Find A Grave, Find A Grave.


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