Family history mystery solved.

I was watching “A History of Scotland” this evening. At one point, Neil Oliver was speaking about the Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1832. It was along awaited and hard fought battle to obtain electoral reforms. I can’t pretend to understand the voting methods but the part that interested me was that the Act extended the vote to any man (women, needless to say, were still excluded) who owned land worth £10 or more. Which brings me to the family history thing….

While doing some family research, I came across an ancestor who, amongst a number of others, who was brought up on charges for some sort of electoral fraud which I was at a loss to work out. It seems that it was not an uncommon practice for property owners to create the illusion that their property was worth more than it actually was worth. For instance, A man would “sell” his property to his neighbour and would then within the year “buy it back” for more than they sold it for. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would pretend to sell their land and then immediately buy it back for more money than they sold it originally…. and within a short time. Since they didn’t actually “sell” it and no money actually changed hands, who was to gain from this? And what did this have to do with voter fraud?

NOW I understand that in order for a man whose property was worth less than £10 to vote, he would have to involver himself in a little subterfuge in order to be able to vote.

Apparently, though, this was also tied up in rigging votes for certain candidates. Reforms had not yet eliminated the problem of rotten boroughs and intimidation, bribery, and blackmail which were the result of open ballots. It wasn’t until 1872 the the secret ballot was legislated. Prior to 1872 (and as alleged in this case), candidates would “facilitate” the transfer of land back and forth between the owners in order to “legitimize” a landowner as a voter.

I don’t know what the result of this particular case was and can’t find the site where I located this information. If I do find it, I will fill in the blanks to this post.


I had come across my mother’s Soldier’s Record and pay Book from her days in the Women’s Royal Army Corps, last night. Amongst the documents accompanying it was the receipts tor the announcement of her appointment to 2nd Lieutenant in the WRAC, to appear in the London Gazette Supplement.

I’d not heard of the London Gazette but figured that it was just another newspaper.

From what I can tell, it is actually where announcements from all over the UK, and historically, all over the British Empire, were printed. Everything from insolvency to announcements of the settlement of wills and the appointment to military positions.

I started out by looking for the announcement of my mother’s military appointment (which I found as well as her appointment to the same rank in the Reserves in 1953. Then I found the announcement of her cousin George’s appointment to the same rank. I started looking for the names of other relations and then tried the name Dubash, my step-Dad’s surname, and Shroff, (or Schroff) his mother’s maiden name. There were a few people with the surname Dubash and a few with the surname Shroff. However, the bulk of the entries, some going back to the 1790s, are for the occupation of Dubash (basically a “facilitator” – someone who acts as the agent for a ship or company to arrange for everything from offloading cargo, arranging the sale of cargo, ships chandler….) or Shroff (collector, as in debt or loan collector).

I’m not sure how many people are aware of the Gazette but it would be a resource for anyone doing genealogy research.

“New Toy” update

I took my new digital recorder back and got my $40 rebate!

I was going to take it back yesterday but had one of my stupid vertigo attacks and had to stay in bed all day.

I also planned to go into this computer store to check out a reconditioned computer for Gabby. The one I saw the day before yesterday for $199 (yes… $199) on their website is gone but they have this $299 one. Since I have someone who can fix the computer if something fails in it, I’m not too worried about it.

Another friend bought a computer their before and is pleased with it.

New (old) family.

My mother left Scotland back in 1950 and emigrated to Canada. Both her parents were dead and she was an only child She had several cousins but they lived in different parts of the Britain and Scotland. She was teaching but because in Scottish schools teachers were required to strap children and my mother just couldn’t bring herself to do it, she was looking for other work. Unfortunately, now that the war had ended and men were reentering the workforce, whenever she applied for jobs, she was always up against several male candidates and they were the ones who got the jobs.

After listening to a talk one evening on Canada, the next day she went down to the travel agent’s and booked passage to Canada for the next week. She got a colleague to take over the last two weeks of her classes and didn’t even tell her employers she was planning on leaving.

The next week she boarded The Empress of Scotland for Canada. Some friends saw her off.

A few years ago I said “It must have been an emotional day for you, saying goodbye to everything you knew.”

She said “I never looked back”.

She kept in touch with her cousins and few remaining Tocher aunts, her mother’s sisters. Most of her father’s family had cut their connection with her parents towards the end of the war. The last of his sisters had cut her connection when my grandmother, by then very ill with cancer, said that she no longer had the energy to look after a niece who had been staying with her and my Mom (Grandfather had died at the end of the war).

She was very close with her mother’s family, though and remained in contact with her cousins over the years, until they all passed away. Her cousin Kenneth had divorced many years ago and his children stayed with their mother so we didn’t have contact with them. I never imagines that all these years later, through FaceBook, we would suddenly find each other!

Last week, my cousin Mags (Kenneth’s daughter) messaged me on FaceBook and this evening, her sister Sue friended me.

Mags sent me a photo of her grandfather, John Tocher. I’d never seen a photo of him before, so I was thrilled! John Tocher was the designer (apparently never credited but confirmed by Mags) of the Portobello Wave Pool, Edinburgh.

Uncle John Tocher (seated right)

I think Uncle John looks like “James Bellamy” (played by Simon Williams) from “Upstairs, Downstairs”.

Portobello Wave Pool

I was so pleased to have been contacted by Mags and Sue and look forward to getting to know them…

More family photos

My cousin, Dick, sent me some more family photos and a copy of my GG Grandfather’s discharge paper, today.

A scanned version of the birthday photo. I recently learned that there are at least three sets of family, the Comers, the Houchinses, and the Newmans. That would mean that there are at least three sets of GG Grandparents in the photo. I believe that aside from Elizabeth (nee Ellison) and Thomas Houchins (the couple extreme left, second row) and Joseph Baker Comer and Evangeline Comer (nee Smith), it is likely that the couple who are 2nd and 3rd on the left of the first row are Anna Mariah (nee Taylor) and John Owen Newman.  Further investigation may give me the couple on the far right end of the first row.

The Birthday Party

Below are Joseph B. Comer and Evangeline with their children, circa 1899.

Comer family

First row: Sarah Comer, Joseph Baker Comer, Evangeline Comer

Second row: Dessie Comer (Dickerson), Grant Comer, George Allen Comer, Mellie Comer (Houchins)

Harry and Jessie Houchins

Above, Harry and Jessie ( Currie) Houchins, my great uncle and great aunt. Harry was brother of my grandfather.

Discharge paper

It arrived!

My Great Great Grandfather Joseph Baker Comer’s medal arrived today, along with a stack of copies of documents from the National Archives in Washington…. Pension applications and related docs, my Great Great Grandmother’s Widow’s Pension application and related documents, and what I think are referred to as his service cards.

The medal is smaller than I imagined… and so was my Great Great Grandfather, only 5′ 6″ tall.

As Dave, the previous owner pointed out, I received it 2 days after Veterans Day (and our Remembrance Day), and a week to the day from the day Joseph B. Comer signed up 148 years ago. All-in-all, very fitting.








So excited…

Scroll to the bottom for an


In recent year, I have been working on my family tree.

When I grew up, I knew none of my extended family. My father left when I was three and, aside from the day he came to sign papers to allow my step-Dad to adopt me, I saw hide nor hair of him until I was 25 or so. Even after he dropped back into my life, he was very closed-mouth about his family. Aside from the odd comment such as “I don’t want to have them drag my bones back to the family plot when I am dead…” to explain why he didn’t want his sisters from knowing where he was, he remained silent about them.

I didn’t even know until he arrived back where my half-brother and sister Harry and Peggy were. He put me in touch with them and Harry and I visited him out in BC where he had moved to. No one knew where our half-sister Shari was.

My Mom was able to tell me a few things about the family, about his parents and brother (Delroy, who died in 1975). I knew the family was from somewhere in Iowa and Harry sent me some photos he found amongst Hutch’s (His real name was Basil Elwood but he, for obvious reasons, he preferred to be called Hutch. Even his children called him Hutch.) belongings after his death. Dad would be pleased to know that rather than sending his ashes back to the family plot, Harry sprinkled them near Clinton, BC which was where Hutch was sprinkled (unfortunately, not in Red Canyon where he wanted to be sprinkled but in a snow drift at the entrance because it was as close as Harry could get to the canyon in the middle of March.

After Dad died, I had moved to New York City and finally set about trying to find my relations. After sending out a whole bunch of letters (no internet to speak of at the time) I was contacted by my cousin Allan and I finally went out to meet the family there for the first time in 1996.

Sadly, my aunts Hazel and Harriet had died, Hazel in 1992 and Harriet just 6 months before I found my family.

I had tried to find Shari before I left but was so sad not to have done so. A week after I got back, I got a phone call and it was Shari!

In 1999, Shari, Harry, Peg and I all met in Sioux City and had a family reunion. Since then, both my cousin Allan and cousin Ina (named after my grandmother) both died, along with my Uncle Bud, Harriet’s husband. Aside from the copies of photos sent by my brother from our father’s things, and some photocopies of old family photos, I had nothing tangible that tied me to my family.


Comer and Houchins families, 1904 or 1905

Undated copy 1

Comer and Houchins families, 1906 or so

Ina Adair lee And Dell Roy Houchins with baby "Hutch"

Grandparents, Ina Adair Lee and Dell Roy Houchins, with my Dad

In the years since my Dad died, I have been making a concerted effort to do my family tree. Despite my knowing more about my mother’s family than my father’s, I have managed to find out more and now have a substantial family history done. On my father’s side, one branch of the family goes back to  the early kings and queens of Scotland and is linked to most of the early royal houses of Europe.  Their descendants were founding fathers and movers and shakers of Jamestown! On the other hand, the first Houchins to set foot in America did so as an indentured servant.

More recently, I have found that my Great Great Grandfather, Joseph Baker Houchins served in the American Civil War. In fact, I discovered the name of his unit and that he had received a medal from the state of West Virginia. I even found out who owns it.

Even more exciting… the owner offered to sell (at a very reasonable price) it and the records that he obtained from the National Archives including his military record and a copy of the marriage certificate for Joseph and Angeline (My GG Grandmother had to submit a copy in order to obtain her widow’s pension.). I agreed to buy it.

He sent me photos of the medal.


The medal and box


Side view showing Joseph B.'s name engraved on it

I can’t tell you how excited I am!


The medal is on its way!


Old photos…

I had posted my PhotoHunter post last night but thought about this photo when I was visiting some other peoples’ entries.

Grandmother and Mom at the Rocking Stones (Brimham Stones), Yorkshire

Grandmother and Mom at the Rocking Stones (Brimham Stones), Yorkshire

It was a photo taken by my grandfather, who I never met, of my grandmother (who I also never met, and my mother. My mother thinks the photo was taken at the Rocking Stones (Brimham Stones), in Yorkshire. The photo is hazy because I actually only have the negative. I scanned it using my regular old flatbed scanner and then making a negative of it. I have a bunch of old family photos that I have done this with, some more successfully than others.

This one was a surprise because, while I had seen the negative many times over the years, it wasn’t until I scanned it and blew it up that I realized it was my (step) father. It was probably taken when he was in University, thought, aside from skiing, I didn’t think he was particularly athletic. My sister swears it isn’t him but it is definitely his face — or the side of it, anyway.



Mom with her mother's parents

Mom with her mother's parents

This was my mother with her father’s parents. He was a lovely man but she was apparently a grouch. He wore a toupee which, although you cal tell in the photo, Mom didn’t know was a toupee until once she accidentally yanked it off. He wasn’t best pleased.

During the war, her grandmother, who lived in Newcastle, came to stay with them because of the risk of bombing there. This was after her husband had died.

While staying with my grandparents, she complained all the time about the food. Nothing sat well with her… She didn’t like how it was cooked… always a complaint. One night, my grandfather heard someone downstairs in the kitchen and went down to find his mother chowing down on all the food she had refused at supper time. He told her off. Apparently, she packed her bags the next morning and left and neither she or any of his family ever spoke to him again.

Somewhere in India

Somewhere in India

I have no idea where this is aside from the general location “India”. It is probably somewhere in Bombay (now Mumbai). The edge of the lake is square, so it may be a tank (the name of man-made waterholes). On the far side, on the left of the photo are a man and a woman standing. Possibly my aunt and my father? If it is my father, it was while he was still a teenager because he left India to study at MIT before WII and didn’t return until we visited in 1968. Who knows… Mystery photo.

Ten things about me….

1 ) I am larger than a bread box and smaller than a house

2 ) My mother needed a Cesarean section when I was born. We lived in a small village (Wakefield, Quebec) and the old doctor there had never done one. Luckily, his son (also a doctor) had trained in doing them in his internship. Unfortunately, in Quebec at that time, a woman was considered chattel and my mother couldn’t sign for her own surgery. Women had to have a husband or father sign, even if they were single and living alone. Unless they reached my father, no surgery — even if my mother and I were going to die. Luckily, after several hours, a neighbour was contacted and let my father know and he was able to sign for the surgery.

3 ) A friend used to called me “Annekedote” because I have a lot of anecdotes.

4 ) a teacher once told me that I needed to “specialize”. “A Jack of all trades is a master of none.” he said. In fact, I have gotten every job I ever had because I know a little about a lot of things and can turn my hand to almost anything.

5 ) I have a mole on my right calf and my niece has one the same size , in the same place, on the same leg.

6 ) I have 9 siblings (now 8, as one died), none of whom share both my parents,  only 4 share the same two parents, and two who aren’t related to me at all….

7 ) I have been yelled at by a member of the British peerage.

8 ) I can’t stand cabbage rolls. They make me sick.

9 ) I can’t eat iceberg lettuce, bean sprouts or alfalfa sprouts.

10 ) I was born with blonde, blonde tightly curled hair. My hair is now dark brown and dead straight – so fine that it won’t hold a curl or a perm.

PhotoHunter: Chipped


PhotoHunter: Chipped


This is a Raku pot I made some years ago. I bisque-fired it and then deliberately broke it before placing it in the Raku kiln. I wanted to see what it would look like when it was fired and then glued back together.

It is a piece I loved. In the end, though, I gave it away to my therapist who I had seen for two years.

For me, it represented the idea that something can be broken and still beautiful.

Interestingly, my therapist, a gerontological psychiatrist who fit me in because I needed to see someone, told me that she found that the pot provided a stimulus to conversation with her other patients, some of whom were generally uncommunicative. She said that it elicited very insightful conversations with them.

I was very pleased that something I did touched people I would never know in such a profound way.


The piece is fired (normally, pottery is fired and left in the kiln overnight to cool. Raku is fired for a short period and removed from the kiln). The piece is removed from the kiln while red hot and either exposed to the air to allow oxygen to reach with the glaze and then placed in a closed container for what is called “reduction”, or immediately reduced. The piece is placed in a container with a combustible material (leaves, newspaper, sawdust, pine needles, etc) in order to “reduce” the oxygen within the container and change the chemical reaction of the glaze. The piece is then cooled by immersing in water to stop the process of reduction and then cleaned of soot and creosote.

These will give you an idea of how Raku is done and some of the results.

Further Chipping…

I was originally thinking of using something slightly different in this post and I can’t seem to shake the original idea so thought I would throw it in for good measure….

Fowl plate

When my step-father and my mother married, I inherited a family history. My birth father was an unknown as he left when I was three and stayed out of my life until I was in my 20s. As a result, aside from a few stories my mother could recollect my father mentioning, I had half a family history missing.

My step-father (“Dad” to me) was a Parsi from Mumbai, India. His family had, at one time, been wealthy. The last vestiges of the wealth were a few items given him by his parents before they effectively disowned him for marrying outside the community not once, but twice. The family had more or less litigated the wealth away after the death of my father’s grandfather. Every time someone died, G-Grandfather’s will was hauled out to see if someone could wring one more penny out of it. Even after my father died, one of my aunts called to ask if we had found a copy of G-Grandfather’s will.


The family had been fabulously wealthy, once upon a time, and even when my grandmother married my grandfather, she was considered the second wealthiest woman in Bombay…. and that is saying something. In marrying my grandfather, she married a rung below her on the social ladder and never let him forget it. The family made their money in banking, law, and the East India trade.

Meat plate

Meat plate



One of the few item left were a set of dishes, or rather a quarter of a set of dishes. We had a set of 20 place settings for something like a 10-course meal, with two tea and coffee services, cookie and desert services. On special occasions, we used the dishes and when we were sick, Mom would serve soup in the delicate porcelain soup cups with their two handles and separate lid.

Teacup (what's left of it)
Teacup (what’s left of it)

Over the years, though, many had gotten broken or chipped. Now my brother has the dishes, or the bulk of them, and we have many of the chipped and broken ones along with a few favorites that we have.

Dessert plate

Each service has its own motif… Fish has fish and crustaceans, Rice has scenes of Japan, Fowl has birds of all kinds and meat (for some strange reason) have images of Japanese people on them. The dessert dishes have sparrows and flowers and  the tea services have wisteria and other flowers. All the dishes are monogrammed to match the initials of the eldest son, which is always SDD or DSD.



I have tried to find more information about the makers of these dishes but aside from knowing they are over 100 years old, I can’t find any info.


One of my favorites

I know that my G-Grandfather or possibly my G-G-Grandfather brought them back from Japan on one of his business voyages. He is reputed to have been allowed by the Emperor to set up a Fire temple for the use of  Zoroastrian traders and merchants on Japan, one of the only religions to have been allowed to do so.

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