Mom and the Medals

My mother and her father’s WWI medals, March 14, 2017.

Mom had never known about the medals and certainly never seen them. We are very grateful to Patrick for ensuring they made their way back to us. The story is here.


Great Uncle John Tocher

I got an email today from another Tocher cousin, my second (third?) cousin. He was able to give me a bit more information about his grandfather and my great uncle John Tocher. My great uncle John Tocher, seated at right, aboard the Steam Ship Heronpool, circa 1910. Engineer, designer of the Portobello Wave Pool, Edinburgh.He went on to be a successful engineer.

Uncle John narrowly missed death in the sinking of the submarine HMS Thetis on its maiden voyage. Uncle John suffered from claustrophobia and decided not to go aboard. It sank, with 99 lives aboard lost. Two men managed to escape through a hatch and four others died trying the same escape route.

“On June 1, 1939, Thetis prepared to make its maiden voyage. The voyage was to be a test run and dive in the home waters of Liverpool Bay. Conditions on board were extremely cramped, with the submarine carrying 103 men – twice the number she was designed to carry. Thetis being launched Many aboard were engineers from Cammell Lairds. Only 69 of Thetis’s crew were sailors, the rest were mainly engineers from Cammell Laird. Laird’s workers were offered the opportunity to disembark prior to the dive, but all chose to stay aboard.”

For three days, those trapped inside the submarine waited for rescue before succumbing to the effects to carbon dioxide poisoning.

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.

Photo Hunt: “Written”

This week’s Photo Hunt challenge is “Written”.

My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister in Dumfries, Scotland. After his death, when my mother and grandmother moved from the manse, amongst the many things in his office was a collection of documents from the General Synod. How they came into his possession, I don’t know. They were originally sent out in 1842 by The Reverend Dr. Henry Duncan to the ministers in the parishes in Dumfrieshire to collect information about incidents of “Fornication or Adultery between April 1, 1841 and April 1, 1842”.

Quite apart from their social import, the person who sent them is a fascinating historical character.

The Reverend Dr. Henry Duncan (1774-1846) was not just a parish minister (Ruthwell Parish). a few facts about Dr. Duncan

  • As a boy he met the poet Robert Burns, who visited Dr. Duncan’s father at Lochrutton Manse. Duncan was educated in Dumfries at the Academy.
  • In 1810 Duncan opened the world’s first commercial savings bank, paying interest on its investors’ modest savings. The Savings Bank Museum tells the story of early home savings in Britain.
  • In 1818 Duncan restored the Ruthwell Cross, one of the finest Anglo-Saxon crosses in Britain, now in Ruthwell church. This late 7th/early 8th century cross is remarkable for its runic inscription, which contains excerpts from The Dream of the Rood, an Old English poem.
  • In 1828 Duncan presented a paper to the Royal Society of Edinburgh describing fossil footprints found in Permian red sandstone at Corncockle Muir, Dumfriesshire. The paper, published in 1831, was the first scientific report of a fossil track. A cast of the tracks of Chelichnus duncani can be found in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
  • In 1839 Duncan became Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and at the time of the Disruption of 1843 became one of the founding ministers of the Free Church of Scotland.
  • Henry Duncan was visited by Robert Murray M’Cheyne during his vacations in Ruthwell

Jeans…. Just how old do YOU think they are?s

Just about anyone in North America who grew up from the late 1950s onwards has worn blue jeans. Popular culture has led us to believe that jeans were an “American invention” of the late 19th century, and developed by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis.

In fact, “jeans” or pants made from the hard-wearing fabric “Gênes” or “blue de Gênes” (blue of Genoa) were worn by sailors sailing from India (the name Dungarees is said to come from Dongari Killa in Bombay, where the fabric was manufactured). Some experts say that the fabric developed simultaneously in Europe and India. Quite likely, it began in Europe and was introduced in India. The name denim comes from “de Nimes” for the French city

Whatever its true origin, the fabric, in Europe was used as far back as the 15th century a material for the common people, the working classes. Because of this, we have little actual evidence of the material. It was worn to shreds by its wearers and disappeared into history.

However, the work of an anonymous 17th century Northern Italian painter, newly discovered and dubbed “The Master of the Blue Jeans”, allows us to put into visual context what was mere supposition before. The painter focused on the poor and working-classes and all but one of his known paintings show people wearing or using a heavy fabric, dyed a familiar Indigo hue. The details in tears reveal  the blue was threaded with white and seams are often the familiar double-seams we know so well from modern jeans.

An exhibit at Galarie Canesso, in Paris, is showing works by “The Master of Blue Jeans” and others, revealing the humble “Gênes”. The full catalogue is available on line.



"Beggar Boy with a Piece of Pie" Master of Blue Jeans / Galerie Canesso



"Woman Begging with Two Children"Master of the Blue Jeans / Galerie Canesso




^ "Shepherd" 18th C. Ligurian Sculptor ^ detail


PhotoHunt: Orange

This week’s PhotoHunt theme is “Orange”.

For most of the last 150 years, Orange Lodges had been a fixture in most Canadian communities and were the most prominent political and social organization. The first Orange lodge was founded in 1830, in Brockville, Ontario by Ogle Robert Gowan.

On early maps of Ontario, aside from churches and post offices, the Orange Lodges were marked. Since I spend a lot of time driving around the countryside, I often see buildings which I suspect may be former Orange Lodges. This was the first one I identified. It is disused and was moved from it’s former location some properties away.

Apparently, despite the date of 1888 on the marker on the building, Loyal Orange Lodge No. 69 of Mansfield received its official warrant from the Grand Lodge of British America of Kingston and Brockville in 1847 but the lodge was in existence before this official recognition. Presumably, the 1888 is the date of this building. The Mansfield Orange Lodge was the social centre of community activities in the Mansfield area, namely the area of the sixth, seventh and eighth concessions of Goulbourn between current-day regional road five and the Munster Sideroad.

Loyal Orange Lodge #69, Mansfield, ON, 1888

When we moved, we had to leave behind our beautiful, well-established honeysuckle. A few weeks ago, the chair of the Landscaping dug it up and took it into her yard. I was so mad because it probably won’t survive the move. I bought a pink one. I can only hope it does as well as my orange one did.


Perhaps my favourite annual is Nasturtium. Not only is it bold and beautiful, it is also versatile. It is a lovely addition to salads. The leaves are hot and spicy and the flowers sweet.


PhotoHunter: Triangle

This week’s PhotoHunter theme is “Triangle”…

The Andrewsville Road Bridge at Nicholson’s Locks in the Rideau Canal. A makeshift memorial to two people drowned two weeks before, one, an off-duty Navy rescue person, trying to rescue a drowning teen. A reminder that even the most quiet river can have hidden dangers.


The next image is one of a series which I have tentatively titled “The Portfolio“. They “recreate” the portfolio of a fictional woman photographer of the mid-19th century, as it would have been rediscovered long after her death. Since it is a work in progress, many of these are experiments.

"Railway bridge"

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

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!


PhotoHunter: “Rock”

My “rock” is part of the Canadian Shield. The Canadian Shield (aka the Precambrian Shield, or Laurentian Shield) is the Precambrian rock that covers about 8 million square kilometers of Eastern and Central Canada. It is comprised of some of the world’s oldest rock, dating back approximately 4.5 billion and 540 million years.

Some of that Pre-Cambrian rock.

Some of that Precambrian rock.

Over successive ice ages, mountains (including some volcanic) as high and awesome as the Rockies have been scoured down to bare rock over which lies boreal forest. You can find evidence of the last ice age all over the place.

The view of the Laurentian mountains from Mont Tremblant, Quebec

The view of the Laurentian mountains from Mont Tremblant, Quebec

In the photo below, you can see the edge of the Shield where it is cut off by the Ottawa River Valley, a great, wide valley which extends from the St. Lawrence River in the east and swings west and then northward towards Hudson Bay. It is a rift valley, formed when the bedrock dropped down tens of kilometres deep. Several major fault-lines run through the area and we experience frequent earth tremors, as a result.

View from the Champlain Lookout

View from the Champlain Lookout, in the Gatineau Hills

The edge of the Shield which bounds it on the northern edge rises up about 300 metres.

Parts of the Shield extend down into the US.

The Ottawa Valley and Canadian Shield

The Ottawa Valley and Canadian Shield

The Ottawa River Valley

The Ottawa River Valley

The Ottawa Valley was once part of the great Champlain Sea, a huge brackish inland sea where whales once swam. The Champlain Sea formed when the great ice sheets of the last ice age pressed down on the land and when the melted, the Atlantic Ocean flooded in. When the last of the ice was gone, the continent tipped back and the water flowed out, again.

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